U.S. President had decided to seek congressional approval for military strike on Syria

Syria has called U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a military strike as a face-saving manoeuvre to avoid a messy conflict with Damascus.

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA quoted Bashar-al-Jaafari, the permanent representative to the United Nations (U.N.) as saying President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron “climbed to the top of the tree and don’t know how to get down”.

He pointed out that their recourse to the Congress and the House of Commons for approval was “to seek a way out of the trouble they got themselves into”.

In an interview with Syrian TV on Saturday, the Syrian envoy referred to the internal dynamics in Washington to explain President Obama’s predicament. The U.S. President, he said, “did well by emulating [Mr.] Cameron by referring the decision of waging an aggression on Syria to the congress”. He added that Mr. Obama was “under a lot of pressure from the hardline right wing, neo-Zionists, Israel, Turkey and some Arabs”, to wage a war.

Mr. Jaafari was referring to the President’s dramatic turnaround on Saturday, when he sought congressional authorisation for a military strike against Syria — a decision which has effectively postponed an attack beyond September 9 when the Congress convenes.

Mr. Obama said he had taken his decision in the best traditions of American democracy, with idealism rather than opportunism being its driving force.

In a hastily organised appearance at the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said he was prepared to “give that order”, of ordering military strikes. He added: “But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

Following the U.S. and British lead, France has also decided to wait for a parliamentary vote before committing Paris to a military attack on Syria. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on Sunday France would await a decision by the U.S. Congress before embarking on a course of action. “France cannot go it alone,” he told Europe 1 radio.

“We need a coalition” he said, underscoring with his assertion, the vast distance that France had travelled from the de Gaullian tradition of an independent foreign policy.

In large parts of West Asia, the perception that an attack on Syria was likely to snowball into a larger conflagration beyond the region has begun to spread rapidly. Al Azhar, the Cairo based seat of Islamic learning, has issued a strong statement condemning the proposed strikes, which it said “would amount to an aggression against the Arab and Islamic nation... which endangers peace and international security”.

Al Azhar “expressed its categorical rejection and condemnation of the decision by the American President to launch military strikes on Syria”.

Despite relief that a war had at least been postponed, there were apprehensions in Damascus about the objectivity of the analysis of the chemical samples that had been taken by visiting U.N. experts from sites of an alleged chemical attack in the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian officials said it was necessary to differentiate between the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction and “chemical materials” that could be used by armed militants.

Mr. Jaafari, the Syrian diplomat, pointed out that 20 years ago a Japanese extremist group had killed hundreds of people at a metro station in Tokyo using Sarin gas. He also cited the recent arrest of 12 gunmen linked to the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, who had been apprehended by Turkish authorities with two litres of Sarin gas brought from Libya.

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