Fri., 8:50am: Obama, in Europe, still pursuing Syria support
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – President Barack Obama is using his last day in Europe to renew his quest for foreign support for a U.S. military strike in Syria. But three days after he left Washington, it’s unclear whether the global coalition the president has been seeking is any closer to becoming a reality.
China’s a firm no. The European Union is skeptical about whether any military action can be effective. Even Pope Francis weighed in, urging leaders gathered here to abandon what he called a “futile mission.”
Still, Obama was undeterred. As the president pressed his case on the world stage, he was dispatching his U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, to a Washington think tank to argue that the global community cannot afford the precedent of letting chemical weapons use go unpunished.
Illustrating the risks associated with a strike, however, the State Department on Friday ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon, a step under consideration since Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian regime last week. The travel warning said it had instructed nonessential staffers to leave Beirut and urged private American citizens to depart Lebanon.
Yet even as Obama sought the global buy-in that could legitimize a potential strike, his aides were careful to temper expectations that the world community could speak with one voice. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said the president wasn’t asking his peers to pledge their own militaries to a U.S.-led strike, but simply to say they agree a military response is warranted.
“We don’t expect every country here to agree with that position,” Rhodes said Friday at the Group of 20 economic summit, where Obama was huddling with foreign leaders.
Standing on Russian soil, Rhodes suggested the U.S. had given up hope that Russia – a stalwart Syria ally – could be coerced into changing its position. “We don’t expect to have Russian cooperation,” he said.
A key status update was to come Friday when Obama, his diplomatic dexterity pushed to the max, will be quizzed by reporters in the waning hours of the summit.