Obama trying to sway war-weary public on Syria (+videos)

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 9 2013 7:42 a.m. MDT

President Barack arrives on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 in Washington.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is hitting the airwaves to try to convince Americans that limited strikes against Syria are needed for the United States' long-term safety, while Secretary of State John Kerry is vehemently defending the case against President Bashar Assad, saying his denial of chemical weapons use is "contradicted by fact."

Obama on Monday planned to make his case for punishing Assad for what the United States argues was his decision to use chemical weapons against his own people — a charge Assad denied in a new interview.

Assad warned of retaliation against the U.S. for any military strike in Syria. "You should expect everything," Assad said in the interview aired Monday on CBS' "This Morning."

Asked if he was making a threat of a direct military response to an attack, Assad was vague, saying at one point, "I am not fortune teller to tell you what's going to happen." He added: "It's not only the government (that's) the only player in this region. You have different parties. You have different factions. You have different ideology. You have everything in this region now. So you have to expect that."

Obama administration officials, meanwhile, planned more classified briefings on Capitol Hill. And White House national security adviser Susan Rice is scheduled to speak at a Washington think tank timed to the public relations blitz aimed at ensuring people the administration isn't contemplating another commitment like Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the new interview, Assad told American journalist Charlie Rose there is no conclusive evidence about who is to blame for the chemical weapons attacks and again suggested the rebels were responsible. Rose said Assad also warned him previous U.S. military efforts in the region have proved disastrous.

And Assad argued the evidence Kerry has disclosed amounts to a "big lie" that resembles the case for war in Iraq that Secretary of State Colin Powell made to the United Nations over a decade ago.

Appearing Monday at a news conference in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry said of Assad: "What does he offer? Words that are contradicted by fact."

"We know that his regime gave orders to prepare for a chemical attack. We know they deployed forces," the secretary said. He added that the United States knows "where the rockets came from and where they landed ... and it was no accident that they all came from regime -controlled territory and all landed" in opposition-held territory.

"So the evidence is powerful and the question for all of us is, what are we going to do about it. Turn our backs? Have a moment of silence?"

He said that if Assad wanted to defuse the crisis, "he could turn every single bit of his chemical weapons over to the international community" within a week. But he said that Assad "isn't about to do it."

Pressed further on Assad's denials, Kerry said, "I just answered that. I just gave you real evidence. Evidence that as a former prosecutor in the United States I could take into a courtroom and get admitted."

Meanwhile, Russian and Syrian foreign ministers said they will push for the return of United Nations inspectors to Syria to continue their probe into the use of chemical weapons. Russia's Sergey Lavrov said after Monday's talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem that Moscow will continue to promote a peaceful settlement and may try to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures who are interested in peaceful settlement.

Lavrov said that a U.S. attack on Syria will deal a fatal blow to peace efforts.

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