President Barack Obama has said he had not yet decided whether to attack Syria in response to alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, but a strike appeared likely as the U.S. stopped seeking a U.N. mandate.
“We have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place. Hardly anybody disputes that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations,” Mr. Obama told the PBS News Hour in an interview yesterday.
“I think it’s important that if, in fact, we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war, trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again,” he said.
Syrian opposition and the West have accused President Bashar Al-Assad’s government of using chemical weapons last week in a Damascus suburb, a charge denied by the government.
“We have looked at all the evidence and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons — or chemical weapons of that sort. We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks,” Mr. Obama asserted in response to a question.
“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences,” the U.S. president said.
Meanwhile, holding President Assad responsible for the alleged use of chemical weapons by his regime, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said there is “no point” in going forward in the U.N. Security Council.
“We see no avenue forward given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful council action on Syria.
Therefore, the United States will continue its consultations and will take appropriate actions to respond in the days ahead,” Ms. Harf told reporters.
“We have no reason to believe that efforts at the Security Council would be any different than these previous efforts that have failed,” she argued, throwing up a strong indication that that the U.S. and its allies are gearing up to bypass the U.N. Security Council in this regard.
Commenting on the developments, Russia said that calls for a military strike against Syria are an “undisguised challenge” to the U.N. charter.
“Declared plans by some states to inflict a military strike on Syria are an undisguised challenge to the key provisions of the U.N. charter and other norms of international law,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement today said quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as telling U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon at a meeting at The Hague on Wednesday.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi have urged all sides concerned to keep calm and restrain, saying they should wait for the results of the U.N. inspection team.
“A political solution is always the only realistic means to resolve the Syria issue,” Wang said, warning that military interference from the outside will exacerbate the turmoil.
Stating that he is consulting with the world community, Mr. Obama said, “I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, they are held accountable.”
Mr. Obama hoped that ultimately, a political transition can take place inside of Syria. “We are prepared to work with anybody — the Russians and others — to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict,” he said.
The U.S. President, however, admitted that “direct military engagement, involvement in the civil war in Syria, would not help the situation on the ground.”
But said, “when you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they’re allied to known terrorist organisations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.”
“If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians,” he added.
Seek Congressional approval: US lawmakers
At least 116 American lawmakers have asked President Barack Obama to seek Congressional approval for any military strike against Syria in response to alleged use of chemical weapons in the Arab country.
A letter signed by 116 Congressmen — 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats — was sent to Mr. Obama as the State Department said that it would brief the Congress in a classified setting on the intelligence related to the alleged chemical attack by the Assad regime in a Damascus suburb last week.
The lawmakers in their letter expressed disapproval at the President’s intervention in Libya without prior statutory authorisation, and said that Congress stood ready to return to session to consider the facts in Syria.
“We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorisation from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria. Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973,” said the letter spearheaded by Congressman Scott Rigell.
“If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request. We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict,” the lawmakers wrote.
In an interview to the CNN, Republican Senator Bob Corker, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, urged Mr. Obama to call Congress back to Washington to seek approval for possible surgical, proportional military action in Syria.
“The administration has consulted and we have been aggressive, candidly, about being consulted. I do think we would be so much better off if the administration would come to Congress, call everybody back and let Congress authorize this activity,” said Mr. Corker.
In terms of the U.S. foreign policy goals in Syria, Mr. Corker said, “I don’t want what we may be getting ready to do with Syria to take us away from the stated strategy and policy of insuring that we don’t get directly involved in any kind of quagmire relative to civil war. I think what the president is proposing, a surgical, proportional strike, is called for here assuming the intelligence briefing that I get justify those actions.”
Another Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, ranking member of Senate Armed Services Committee, opposed any military intervention in Syria.
“I told the Administration that I cannot support military action in Syria unless the President presents to Congress his broader strategy in the region that addresses our national security interests and the budget to support it,” he said.
“President Obama has decimated our military beginning with his first budget four and a half years ago. He has underfunded overseas contingency operations fund, reduced base defense budget, and put into motion sequestration. Our military has no money left,” Mr. Inhofe said.
“The United States should also not consider a strategy without thoroughly consulting and heeding the advice of our partners in the region, which include Israel, Jordan and Turkey. It is vital we avoid shortsighted military action that would have little impact on the long-term trajectory of the conflict. We can’t simply launch a few missiles and hope for the best,” the Senator said.
Meanwhile, the State Department said the Obama Administration would brief the Congress this week.
“Once the intelligence community has made a formal assessment, we will provide the classified assessment to Congress and then make unclassified details available to the public. Expect that to occur sometime this week,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said.
“While I can’t speak to what intelligence related to the August 21st attack will eventually be declassified, I would caution against anyone assuming that any signals intelligence or any human intelligence will be included in that unclassified version,” she said.
Keywords: Syria civil war, Bashar Assad regime, Syria unrest, Syria rebels, chemical weapons, Syria chemical attack, UNSC, West Asia crisis, French intervention, Russian protest, U.S. military strike against Syria,