Obama promises Syria ‘won’t be another Afghanistan’

EU officials agree Assad appears to be behind last month’s chemical attack in Damascus


US president Barack Obama has appealed to a dubious American public to back his bid to use military force in Syria while supporters scrambled to persuade lawmakers to authorize the move.

Fresh from a European trip in which he failed to forge a consensus among global leaders on the need for a military strike on Syria, Mr Obama told his war-weary country that America needs to use force to deter future chemical weapons attacks there.

But the president, clearly still the reluctant warrior who rose to political prominence on his opposition to the Iraq war, said he did not want another costly and protracted conflict.

“This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan,” Mr Obama declared in his weekly radio address, previewing arguments he will make in a nationally televised address on Tuesday.

“I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. That’s why we’re not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else’s war,” Mr Obama said.

European Union officials have agreed the August 21st chemical attack outside Damascus appears to have been the work of Syria’s regime, but that any potential military attack against it should wait for the UN inspectors’ report.

EU high representative Catherine Ashton and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius were speaking today after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Lithuania.

France had already said it would wait for the UN inspectors’ report before deciding to intervene militarily, even though it said the report would only show a chemical attack had taken place, not apportion blame.

Addressing the joint EU position, Mr Fabius said: “It is said that all indications converge toward the fact that the regime is responsible.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore attended the talks in Lithuania on Syria, Egypt and latest attempts to build peace in the Middle East.

US secretary of state John Kerry urged the EU ministers at the meeting to put off a planned ban on EU financial assistance to Israeli organisations in the occupied Palestinian territories, a US official said.

Mr Kerry called on the ministers to support Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which resumed on July 29th after a nearly three-year hiatus.

The EU had imposed restrictions in July citing frustration over the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 Middle East War.

A senior US State Department official told reporters that Mr Kerry called on the minnisters to consider postponing the implementation of EU guidelines on aid.

The guidelines render Israeli entities operating in the occupied territories ineligible for EU grants, prizes or loans, beginning next year.

Ahead of the Vilnius meeting, the Tánaiste said: “We must continue to focus on a political solution to the worsening crisis in Syria and concentrate our efforts on the humanitarian help which the people of Syria so desperately need.”

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