Obama to seek support from Congress for Syria action

President says US ‘cannot and will not’ turn a blind eye to chemical weapons deaths

US president Barack Obama speaks next to vice president Joe Biden (L) at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington this evening. Photograph:  Mike Theiler/Reuters.

US president Barack Obama speaks next to vice president Joe Biden (L) at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington this evening. Photograph: Mike Theiler/Reuters.

Sat, Aug 31, 2013, 20:06

US president Barack Obama will seek congressional backing for taking military action against Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria.

Speaking at the White House this evening, Mr Obama said the military stands ready to act as early as tomorrow and he is “prepared to give that order”.

Mr Obama said he has the authority to act on his own, but believes it is important for the country to have a debate before taking action. He said he knew the US public was weary of war but that he “cannot and will not turn a blind eye” to a chemical weapons attack in Damascus.

“After careful deliberation I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” he said.

“This would not be an open ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope...But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behaviour and degrade their capacity to carry it out.”

The action would be in response to a chemical weapons attack the US says Assad’s government carried out against civilians. The US says more than 1,400 Syrians were killed in that attack last week, with Mr Obama tonight stressing that hundreds of the dead were children.

Earlier, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said it would be “utter nonsense” for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons when it was winning the war.

The Assad government, like Russia, blames the rebels for last week’s alleged chemical weapon attack.

Urging Mr Obama not to attack Syrian forces, Mr Putin said he was “convinced that it (the chemical attack) is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena, especially the United States”.

British prime minister David Cameron tonight said he supported Mr Obama’s position on Syria. Mr Cameron’s plans for Britain join a potential military strike were thwarted on Thursday night when parliament narrowly voted against a government motion to authorise such action in principle.

The United Nations tonight strongly rejected suggestions that it was stepping aside in Syria to allow US air strikes, adding that its humanitarian work in the conflict-ravaged country would continue.

“I have seen all kinds of reporting suggesting that the departure of the chemical weapons team somehow opens a window for military action of some kind,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.

“Frankly, that’s grotesque, and it’s also an affront to the more than 1,000 staff, U.N. staff, who are on the ground in Syria delivering humanitarian aid and who will continue to deliver critical aid,” he said.

UN experts arrived in the Netherlands with evidence gathered in their investigation of a poison gas attack in Syria.

Mr Nesirky repeated that the inspectors would return later to investigate several other alleged poison gas attacks that have taken place in Syria during the country’s civil war.

He also responded to US secretary of state John Kerry’s remarks yesterday that the UN chemical weapons experts cannot provide any information that the United States, which blames Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for last week’s attack that Washington said killed hundreds, does not already have.

“The United Nations mission is uniquely capable of establishing in an impartial and credible manner the facts of any use of chemical weapons based directly on evidence collected on the ground,” he said.


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