POLITICS: PennAve

Obama downplays Assad threat to retaliate

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Barack Obama,Syria,PennAve,Middle East,Bashar Assad,Meghashyam Mali

President Obama on Monday dismissed threats from Syrian leader Bashar Assad threatening to retaliate if the U.S. launched a military strike.

“I think you always have to take all precautions and recognize that any military action, even a limited one, is a significant piece of business. And you know, we have looked very carefully at all the possibilities,” Obama told PBS’s “Newshour,” in one of six interviews he conducted as he seeks to build support for attacking Syria.

“I think it’s important to recognize that Assad does not have significant military capabilities relative to us,” Obama added.

Obama is seeking congressional authorization to punish Syria after Assad used chemical weapons on civilians last month. Assad and opposition forces have waged a brutal two-year civil war. The president is launching a media blitz to sway a skeptical public and swing weak congressional support for his plan.

Assad told interviewer Charlie Rose on Sunday that the U.S. should “expect every action” in response to a strike.

Obama acknowledged that many of Syria’s allies, including Iran and Hezbollah, could harm U.S. interests, but downplayed the threat.

“They could carry out asymmetrical attacks against our embassies, for example, in the region. But we don’t actually think that they want to do something like that,” said Obama.

Obama noted that Iran had lost troops to chemical weapon attacks during its war with Iraq in the 1980s.

“Keep in mind that Iran was the country probably last subjected to large-scale chemical weapons use, by Saddam Hussein. So there’s a real aversion to chemical weapons inside of Iran. I don’t think either Iran or Hezbollah thought that what Assad did was a good idea,” said the president.

“And you know, for us to take a limited proportional although significant strike on Assad’s capabilities to degrade them I don’t think would prompt them to get involved.”

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