Full Summary of What You Saw (Or May Have Missed) In President Obama’s Six Network News Interviews on Monday
Above: The six evening news anchors that interviewed President Obama about the Syrian crisis and the possible US military strike on Syria. From left to right: CBS News’ Scott Pelley, PBS’ Gwen Ifill, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, and NBC News’ Samantha Guthrie. [@gwenifill]
1) President Obama’s CNN Interview with The Situation Room's Wolf Blitzer
Obama told CNN that the Russian proposal for Assad to put his chemical arsenal under international control is “a potentially positive thought.”
It is unlikely that we would have arrived at that point without a credible military threat,” Obama said.
The president sees a “positive development” today on Assad’s chemical arsenal, referring to the Russian proposal that Syria puts its stockpiles under international control.
I think it’s a positive development when the Russians and Syrians both make positive gestures towards “eliminating chemical weapons”, Obama says.
"We’re going to run this to ground," he says. "Even Syria’s allies like Iran detest chemical weapons … we may be able to arrive at a consensus."
Speaking to Wolf Biltzer on CNN, Obama says the US will take the Russian proposal “seriously”:
We’re going to take this seriously. But I have to emphasize that we have not seen … these kind of positive gestures so far.
Obama says he spoke with Putin at the G20 summit and Putin does not see the “use of chemical weapons as a good thing.”
We have to maintain this pressure,” Obama says. “I’ll still be speaking to the nation tomorrow about why this is so important.” Obama is due to make a direct televised address to the American people on Tuesday night.
On CNN, Obama concedes that even an agreement on chemical weapons would not solve the broader challenge of the Syrian conflict:
If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference.
But Obama says that without military pressure, ”I don’t think we’re going to get the kind of agreement I’d like to see.”
Blitzer asks Obama to address Assad directly. The president declines to take up the anchor’s somewhat demeaning request: ”I don’t need to talk to the camera,” Obama says. “I suspect he’s got people who will be watching.”
But he does have a few messages:
I would say this to Mr Assad: We need a political settlement so that you’re not slaughtering your own people, and by the way encouraging some elements of the opposition to engage in terrible behavior as well.
In the CNN interview, Obama appears to undercut national security adviser Susan Rice and others who have argued, as Rice did earlier today, that Assad’s use of chemical weapons constitutes a “serious threat to our national security,” “even potentially our citizens at home.”
Obama says Assad can’t hit the US:
The notion that Mr Assad could significantly threaten the United States is just not the case.
2) President Obama’s Fox News Interview with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace
Obama tells Fox News’s Chris Wallace that he “fervently hopes that this can be resolved in a non-military way,” but doesn’t want to take the “pedal off the metal” with regards to seeking authorization for military strikes just yet. He reiterates that the “credible military threat” is what’s brought about the idea of putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
Obama also told Fox News regarding the chemical weapons proposal: ”This is something that is not new. I’ve been discussing this with President Putin for some time now.”
3) President Obama’s PBS Interview with PBS Newshour's Gwen Ifill
On PBS, Obama tells Gwen Ifill that “if we can come up with a mechanism to get these under control, verify and make sure they are not being used,” then he’s for that. But he reiterates that “Assad cannot lie his way through this.”
"This is not Iraq, this is not Afghanistan. This is not even Libya." But he knew when he "presented this to Congress that this would be challenging." He wants to make that case that acting on this is in "our long-term national interests."
"I’ve said before, ‘I got elected to end wars, not to start them.’… But there are times where the choice is ‘do nothing’ or ‘stand up to protect international norms,’" he’s going to do something.
Obama suggested in his interview with Gwen Ifill that he’s having a hard enough time convincing his own extended family that intervening in Syria is the right course of action, let alone the rest of the country:
Obama to @gwenifill: “If you talk to my own family members, or Michelle’s, you know, they’re very wary and suspicious of any action.”— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) September 9, 2013
4) President Obama’s NBC News Interview with TODAY's Samantha Guthrie
In his NBC interview, President Obama appears to be seeking to lower expectations for a congressional victory on the proposed authorization of military use of force.
“I wouldn’t say I’m confident” about the measure passing, the president told NBC News, in remarks released in advance, AP reports.
Obama tells NBC he’s not “confident” in success in Congress:
I wouldn’t say I’m confident. I’m confident that the members of Congress are taking this…. seriously. Doing their homework. And I appreciate that.
Obama tells NBC that the Russian proposal to bring Assad’s chemical arsenal under international control must be “taken with a grain of salt initially”, quoting Ronald Reagan, who once said “trust but verify”:
You have to take this with a grain of salt initially, but between the statements we have from the Russians, the statements from the Syrians, this represents a potentially positive development.
Obama says his preference has always been to craft a diplomatic solution.
President Obama tells NBC he has not yet decided whether he would strike Assad even without congressional approval.
I’m taking… what people are saying very seriously,” Obama says. “I read polls like everybody else. If you ask people – if you ask Michelle, do we want to be involved in another war? The answer is ‘No’.
NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asks the president how he is accounting for potential retaliation by Assad. “Nothing is 100% guaranteed,” he says.
But I think it’s fair to say that our military is outstanding, our intelligence is outstanding.
He says the US can strike without provoking a counter-attack.
First of all, Syria doesn’t have significant capabilities to retaliate. Iran does. But Iran is not going to risk war with the United States.
Guthrie challenges the president to explain Kerry’s remark earlier in the day that US strikes would be “unbelievably small”. He replies: ”The US does not do pinpricks.”
5) President Obama’s ABC News Interview with World News' Diane Sawyer
On ABC News, Diane Sawyer asks Obama if we’re off the brink if Assad’s chemical weapons are put under international control. “Absolutely,” he says, noting that it’s his “preference” that this be taken care of in a non-military way.
"No," he says in response to Sawyer’s question about whether the US should "brace" for retaliation from Assad, whose military capabilities are "insignificant" compared to those of America.
And while he’s unwilling to put a “timeframe” on anything, he does suggest that there’s a fair amount of time to look into this diplomatic proposal.
I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future.