White House Says It's Not Out To Topple Assad Regime

President Obama says any military strike the U.S. makes against the Syrian government for suspected chemical attacks would be limited and unlike military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Host Scott Simon talks with Scott Horsley, NPR's White House correspondent, about the latest news on the Obama administration's efforts to build a coalition to strike Syria.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A U.N. inspections team left Syria this morning and that team is making its way back to Europe where it will analyze samples that were collected at the site of a poison gas attack outside of Damascus. In Washington, D.C. the Obama Administration says it is already convinced that Bashar Assad's regime used chemical weapons during that attack, and yesterday the White House released a summary of intelligence that says that more than 1400 civilians were killed by chemical weapons.

The administration is now preparing for possible military strike on Syria, although President Obama says he has not made a final decision. NPR's White House correspondent, Scott Horsley, joins us. Scott, thanks very much for being with us.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: My pleasure.

SIMON: This is a president that has notably been cautious about getting involved in Syria's civil war. He talked about, and Secretary Kerry talked about chemical weapons being a crime and an outrage. Have they begun to make the case that it's a direct threat to the United States?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, the President himself said this week chemical weapons are different. He famously warned that use of chemical weapons would be crossing a red line for him, so the White House, I think, feels that his credibility is on the line. But more than that, that the credibility of an almost century-old ban on chemical weapons, a ban that grew out of World War I is at stake here.

Now, Obama also says any military action by the U.S. would not be like Iraq or Afghanistan and he says the goal would not be to topple the Assad regime.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In no way are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground that would involve a long-term campaign, but we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria but others around the world understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban.

HORSLEY: And the President says he understands the reluctance of Americans about military action. No one's more war weary than he is, he said, but he does say action in this case is part of America's responsibility as a world leader.

SIMON: Scott, in the 30 some seconds that we have left, the kind of skepticism that has greeted the President in some quarters around the world and in Congress is the kind of thing that, as a candidate, he warned against. How is the administration dealing with this?

HORSLEY: Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday the administration is more than mindful of the Iraq experience when, of course, the U.S. argued Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that turned out to be not the case. But Kerry says the U.S. has high confidence that the Syrian regime was behind this deadly gas attack and he says that's backed up by intercepted communications, human intelligence and satellite tracking of the rockets believed to have delivered the chemical weapons.

SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks very much for being with us.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Scott.

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