Obama: ‘Don’t just trust, but also verify’

President Obama sat down with six television networks Monday night to build public support for his request that Congress approve a military strike against Syria

The following are excerpts from the president’s media blitz outlining what he would need to see in a potential deal and how he hopes Congress will act. 

Russia’s offer

CNN:  This latest idea floated by the secretary of State, John Kerry, picked up by the Russians, is it possible this could avert a U.S. military strike on Syria?

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OBAMA:  It’s possible if it’s real.  And, you know, I think it’s certainly a positive development when, uh, the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we’ve been asking for not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years.

What’s needed for a deal

CBS: What do you need to see in a diplomatic deal?

OBAMA: Well, as I said, the key is, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that we don’t just trust, but we also verify. And so the importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used — that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed. 

Timetable for diplomacy

ABC: How long does he have to show this is real? A week? A month?

OBAMA: This is one of the situations where the stakes are high, but they’re long term. They’re not immediate, they’re not imminent, but they are serious. I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or, you know, any time, you know, in the immediate future. And so I think there will be time, during the course of the debates here in the United States, for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians, to work with us to see, is there a way to resolve this? But I want to make sure ...

ABC: So we are talking weeks?

OBAMA: ... that we don’t take pressure off. I’m not going to put a particular timeframe on. 

Discussed deal with Russia

OBAMA to FOX NEWS: I did discuss this with President Putin. This is something that is not new. … The last time we were at a G-20 meeting in Los Cabos last year, I suggested the need for the United States and Russia to work together to deal with this particular problem. It doesn’t solve the underlying Syrian conflict, but if we can solve this chemical weapons issue, which is a threat to us and the world, then it does potentially lay the groundwork for further discussions around how you can bring about a political settlement inside of Syria.

Chance of retaliation

ABC: Do you feel at this moment, looking at everything that’s possible, that the American people should brace for retaliation?

OBAMA: No. Look, we take all precautions, but understand, Assad’s capabilities are not significant compared to ours. They’re significant compared to an opposition that are not professional fighters.

Acting without congressional approval

NBC:  If this resolution fails in Congress, would you act without Congress?  The answer could be, yes, no, or I haven’t decided.

OBAMA: I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t decided. I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously. I knew by bringing this to Congress that there was a risk that the American people, you know, just could not arrive at a consensus around even a limited strike. … I read polls like everybody else. And if you ask somebody, if you ask Michelle, “Do we want to be involved in another war?” The answer is no. People are wary about it, understandably.

Can he win a congressional vote

NBC: You’re confident you’re going to get the vote?

OBAMA: I, you know, I wouldn’t say I’m confident — I’m confident that the members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously, and they’re doing their homework, and I appreciate that.