Obama on Syria: Chemical attack still just “perceived”

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 7, 2013 

Obama South Korea

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye during their joint news conference in the White House in Washington, D.C.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS — AP

— President Barack Obama said Tuesday that it’s still not clear enough that Syria crossed a chemical weapon red line, at least not clear enough to warrant U.S. action.

“Understandably there’s a desire for easy answers,” he said in a White House news conference.

Noting the wording of a reporter’s question, he said, “the operative line is perceived. What I’ve said is we have evidence that there has been the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria but I don’t make decisions based on perceived. I can’t make international coalitions based on perceived.’

Obama said he wants “the best analysis possible. I want to make sure we are acting deliberately.”

Obama spoke during a joint news conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in which they both also vowed that their two nations will stand firmly together against threats by North Korea and are ready for diplomacy to ease any nuclear threat.

“If Pyongyang thought its recent threats would drive a wedge” between the U.S. and South Korea, Obama said, “today is further evidence North Korea has failed again.”

Park agreed. “The president and I noted it is important to strengthen our deterrence” against threats to North Korea, she said.

But if North Korea is willing to become “a responsible member of the community of nations,” Park said, South Korea is ready to help.

Obama insisted the U.S. is “fully prepared for any challenge to our security,” and maintained “The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over. Our two nations are prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically.”

But, he warned, “the burden is on Pyongyang” to make the talks meaningful. “So far we haven’t seen actions on the part of North Korea that they’re prepared to move in a different direction,” Obama said..

Park, who became president in February, is in Washington for a series of high-level visits. In addition to her talks with Obama, she will address a joint session of Congress Wednesday.

Park has had a tumultuous few months in office. She became president shortly after North Korea heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula by conducting nuclear tests, claimed to be ending the 60-year-old truce with South Korea invalid and threatened the United States. North Korea appears to have backed off recently.

But in a joint declaration, Obama and Park declared, “We share the deep concern that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missiles programs and its repeated provocations pose grave threats to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. Both the United States and the Republic of Korea are determined to achieve the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea and are working with other Six-Party Talks partners and the international community to insist that North Korea adheres to its international obligations and commitments.”

Email:lclark@mcclatchydc.com;dlightman@mcclatchydc.com; twitter@lesleyclark; @lightmandavid

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