A ‘no’ in Congress looks likely

Strike to pave way for dialogue, says Kerry; Russia, Syria jointly dismiss the statement

September 09, 2013 10:49 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 09:15 pm IST - DUBAI

Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria carry signs and a Syrian flag in front of the White House in Washington on Monday.

Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria carry signs and a Syrian flag in front of the White House in Washington on Monday.

As prospects of congressional support have receded, there is much anticipation on whether U.S. President Barack Obama will invoke his presidential authority and order military strikes against Syria, regardless of the vote.

Soon after Mr. Obama sought approval of the Congress for limited strikes, Secretary of State John Kerry had opined that the President “has the right” to strike even without the approval of the lawmakers.

Yet, many analysts say the President would find it tough to order an attack in defiance of the Congress, which begins its crucial debate on Syria on Monday.

Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said during a radio talk-show the “President of course has the authority” to order limited military strikes. But he added that “it’s neither his [Mr. Obama’s] desire nor intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him”.

A resounding no to a military strike would be a grim setback for the armed Syrian opposition, which, already on the run in large parts of the country, was hoping to revive its fortunes after U.S. Tomahawks devastated parts of the country.

Observers say the core objective of the proposed strikes is to weaken the government forces, so that talks can begin in Geneva after a turnaround in the balance of power in Syria is achieved.

Aware of the fall-out of an attack, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem headed for Moscow on Monday, in a final effort to ward off a strike.

At a presser with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Mr. Muallem praised the American people for rejecting military strikes. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has given an exhaustive interview to CBS, to be aired on Tuesday. Its telecast would coincide with the congressional session and Mr. Obama’s public address, where he is expected to spell out his case.

Both Foreign Ministers during their media conference warned that the prospects of Geneva-2 talks will go up in smoke if Syria was attacked, smothering the assumption in Washington that a diplomatic engagement with a presumably weakened Syria can commence after the attack. These remarks seemed to counter Mr. Kerry’s observation in London, where he landed after visiting France, that strikes were necessary to pave the way for a dialogue to end the crisis.

Adding yet another deterrent to the attack, Iran, Syria’s chief ally, has warned that a strike would result in a regional war — a not so subtle message that Tehran would stand by its ally.

Persistent with its effort to identify the real perpetrators of the alleged chemical strike, the Russians on Monday called for another visit by the U.N. chemical investigators to Syria. Mr. Lavrov reiterated the Russian position that “the rebels are behind the chemical attack” in Syria.

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