International momentum for strike against Syria slows
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared unequivocally that the United States has concluded that the Syrian government carried out a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians. But new hurdles emerged that appeared to slow the formation of an international coalition that could use military force to punish Syria.
Obama did not present any direct evidence to back up his assertion that the Syrian government bears responsibility for the attack.
At the same time, U.S. officials were searching for additional intelligence to bolster the case for a strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military infrastructure. Questions remained about whether the attack could be linked to Assad or high officials and whether a rogue element of the Syrian military could have used the weapons on its own authority.
While Obama said he is still evaluating possible military retaliation, he vowed that any American response would send a “strong signal” to Assad.
“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” Obama said during an interview with “NewsHour” on PBS. “And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”
Earlier Wednesday, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a draft resolution from the British seeking authorization for the use of force. Russia, as expected, objected to international intervention.
Obama administration officials said they would take action against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the United Nations because diplomatic paralysis must not prevent a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital last week.
Despite the administration’s assertions that it would press forward without the U.N., momentum for international military action appeared to slow.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised British lawmakers he would not go to war until a U.N. chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria has a chance to report its findings, pushing the U.K.’s involvement in any potential strike until next week at the earliest. Cameron called an emergency meeting of Parliament to vote today on whether to endorse international action against Syria.
More intelligence was being sought by U.S. officials. While a lower-level Syrian military commander’s communications discussing a chemical attack had been intercepted, they don’t specifically link the attack to an official senior enough to tie the killings to Assad himself, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The White House ideally wants intelligence that links the attack directly to Assad or someone in his inner circle to rule out the possibility that a rogue element of the military acted without Assad’s authorization.
That quest for added intelligence has delayed the release of the report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence laying out evidence against Assad.
Some lawmakers have argued that Congress must authorize any military action unless there has been an attack on the U.S. or the existence of an imminent threat to the U.S. Both Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday pressed the White House to provide a clear explanation of how military action would secure U.S. objectives.
Specifically, in a letter to Obama, House Speaker John Boehner asked him to make his case to Congress and the public about how military action would “secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy.”
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