Obama challenges world on Syria strike
Sep 4, 2013 / 10:00 am
President Barack Obama said Wednesday the international community's credibility is at stake in the debate over a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. His top advisers took the argument for action to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where the support seen in the Senate will be harder to find.
Asked about his past comments drawing a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons, Obama said that line had already been drawn by a chemical weapons treaty ratified by countries around the world.
"That wasn't something I made up," he said. He spoke in Sweden before he attends a G-20 economic summit in Russia later this week.
With Obama in Europe, his top national security aides were at the Capitol arguing for Congress' authorization for strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. That's in retaliation for what the administration says was a sarin gas attack by his forces outside Damascus last month that killed more than 1,400.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had been expected to vote on authorizing the use of force as early as Wednesday — the first in a series of votes as the president's request makes its way through Senate and House committees before coming before the two chambers for a final vote. Full debate is expected next week when all of Congress returns from holiday.
But the Senate committee's public meeting — and vote — was delayed after Republican Sen. John McCain, an outspoken advocate of intervention against Assad's regime, said he doesn't support a new Senate resolution that would permit Obama to order a "limited and tailored" military mission against Syria.
McCain said he wants more than cruise missile strikes and other limited action, seeking a stronger response aimed at "reversing the momentum on the battlefield" and hastening Assad's departure. The resolution states that the military mission would not exceed 90 days and would involve no U.S. troops on the ground for combat operations.
The Obama administration also needs to persuade a Republican-dominated House of Representatives that has opposed almost everything on Obama's agenda since the party seized the majority more than three years ago.
The top Republican in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, has signalled key support, saying the U.S. has "enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behaviour."
Obama on Saturday unexpectedly stepped back from ordering a military strike under his own authority and announced he would seek congressional approval.
Reporters asked Obama on Wednesday whether he would take action against Syria if he fails to get that approval. As commander in chief, "I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security," he said.
The administration says 1,429 people died from the gas attack on Aug. 21. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-government activists in Syria, says its toll has reached 502. Assad's government blames the episode on the rebels.
A United Nations inspection team said Wednesday it was speeding up its analysis of tissue and soil samples it collected in Syria last week and hopes to have it done in two or three weeks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria but said Russia "doesn't exclude" supporting a U.N. resolution on punitive military strikes if it is proved that Syria used poison gas on its own people.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Putin expressed hope that he and Obama would have serious discussions about Syria and other issues at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg this week.
Obama said Wednesday he is "always hopeful" that Putin will change his position on taking action in Syria.
Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper, David Espo, Julie Pace, Josh Lederman, Donna Cassata, Alan Fram, Jennifer C. Kerr and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.
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