President Obama said Wednesday that Western powers could “honor” the fallen of World War I by working to eliminate chemical weapons.
“These weapons have no place in a civilized world,” the president said, adding that “the lessons of that war speak to us still.”
The president’s comments come amid concerns that tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Moscow’s incursion into Crimea could slow the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Last year, the Kremlin helped broker a deal between the U.S. and Syrian President Bashar Assad, by which the Syrians would turn over their chemical weapons cache to international observers in order to avoid the military strike advocated by Obama following the use of a deadly nerve gas against rebel forces in the suburbs of Damascus.
So far, half of the Syrian stockpile has been destroyed. But some are concerned Assad could exploit the growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia to stall.
Obama also used his stop at Flanders Field, the battleground famously memorialized in John McCrae poem, to commemorate the sacrifice of U.S. and Belgian troops who died there nearly a century ago. The cemetery holds 368 American troops who died in the effort to liberate Belgium in World War I.
“To all who sleep here, we can say we caught the torch,” Obama said. “We kept the faith.”
The president said he was “awed” by the sacrifice of the soldiers there, and was thankful to “know a level of peace and prosperity that those who fought here could scarcely have imagined.”
Obama, joined by the Belgian prime minister, participated in a wreath laying. He hailed the event as a “chance to reaffirm our commitment to keep as strong as they’ve ever been the bonds between our nations.”