Leaders refuse to back Obama on Syria
US president faces uphill battle to secure congressional approval for intervention
US President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a news conference at the G20 summit in St Petersburg.
US president Barack Obama is to step up efforts to rally support among sceptical US lawmakers for military action against Syria after failing to secure the support of world leaders at a summit in Russia.
Mr Obama returned to Washington last night from a divided G20 summit where the US and 10 other nations issued a joint statement calling for “a strong international response” to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces in an attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb last month.
The statement did not specifically refer to military action in response to an attack the US says killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mr Obama’s host at the St Petersburg summit, said that a majority of political leaders opposed military strikes against Syria without the approval of the United Nations.
Russia and China, allies of Syria and members of the UN Security Council who have blocked sanctions against Syrian president Bachar al-Assad, have said that any military intervention without UN approval would be illegal.
French president François Hollande, who has strongly supported joining the US in military strikes against Assad, put further pressure on Mr Obama, stepping back from immediate action.
Mr Hollande said he would await a report from UN weapons inspectors on the suspected chemical weapons use, due to be published the week of September 15th.
The US president has cancelled a trip to California next week and plans to make a televised address to the American people on Tuesday to press the case for strikes against Mr Assad as Mr Obama’s administration faces an uphill battle to secure US congressional approval for intervention.
Mr Obama’s team is stepping up its lobbying efforts in Congress as most members of the House of Representative who have publicly stated their position have opposed action.
Speaking at the end of the summit, Mr Obama would not say whether he would attack Syria if Congress refused to back him. The Senate will be the first to vote on military action next week.
He said it would be a mistake for him “to jump the gun and speculate” ahead of politicians returning to Washington on Monday from their summer break to a raging debate on the crisis over Syria.
Asked about a remark made by one of his security advisers yesterday that it was neither Mr Obama’s “desire nor his intention” to attack without the support of Congress, he declined to answer.
“I’m not going to engage in parlour games about whether or not it’s going to pass,” said Mr Obama who appeared frustrated at repeated questions from reporters. The president would only say that convincing Congress to authorise military action was a “hard sell” and “going to be a heavy lift”.
“I was under no illusions when I embarked on this path but I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s good for our democracy. We will be more effective if we are unified,” he said.
In the latest push for action, Irish-born US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power pressed the administration’s case in a speech in Washington, saying, “We have exhausted the alternatives.”