US President Barack Obama says he will ask the US Congress to authorise military action against Syria, lifting the threat of immediate strikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Mr Obama said he had decided to take military action on Syria, but that it was important for American democracy to win the support of lawmakers.
The decision represents a significant gamble for Mr Obama, who has an estranged relationship with lawmakers, especially Republicans, and he risks suffering the same fate as British Prime Minister David Cameron, who lost his own vote on authorising military action in parliament.
“I will seek authorisation for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” Mr Obama said.
Mr Obama said that Congressional leaders had agreed to schedule a debate as soon as lawmakers return from their summer break. That is not due to take place until September 9. There was no immediate suggestion that the House of Representatives and the Senate would be called back into session early.
There had been growing expectations in Washington that military action could even happen as soon as this weekend, but Mr Obama’s decision means that will now not happen.
Nevertheless, the president also said that he had decided that military force should be the price for what the United States says is the “undeniable” use of chemical weapons by Syria.
President Barack Obama stands with Vice President Joe Biden as he announced he has decided on a “limited” military strike on Syria, but said he will first seek Congressional approval. Picture: AP
“Our military has positioned assets in the region,” Mr Obama said. “We are prepared to strike whenever we choose.”
President Obama had been ready to order a military strike against Syria, with or without Congress’ blessing. But on Friday night, he suddenly changed his mind.
Senior administration officials describing Obama’s about-face offered a portrait of a president who began to wrestle with his own decision – at first internally, then confiding his views to his chief of staff, and finally summoning his aides for an evening session in the Oval Office to say he’d had a change of heart.
UK PM David Cameron tweets his support
British Prime Minister David Cameron said overnight he understood Mr Obama’s decision to ask the US Congress to authorise military action against Syria, after his own parliament blocked him from involving British forces in any strikes.
Pushing and shoving erupts among Syrian protesters, some for and some against U.S. military action in Syria, as they demonstrate in front of the White House in Washington Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. The woman in the middle with a Syrian flag draped over his shoulders identified herself as Asmaa Al-Ghafari, a “Syrian American revolutionist.” (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
“I understand and support Barack Obama’s position on Syria,” the British prime minister said in a tweet.
Mr Cameron suffered the biggest defeat of his three years in office on Thursday when lawmakers in the House of Commons voted 285 to 272 against the government’s call for action to punish the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
The opposition Labour party had called for “compelling” evidence that Assad’s regime had gassed its own people before launching an attack.
Mr Cameron pledged to respect parliament’s wishes. Mr Obama told Cameron in a phone call on Friday that he “fully respected” the decision, according to Downing Street.
But Mr Obama now risks suffering the same fate as the British leader.
Meanwhile France will wait for its parliament and the US Congress to consider possible military action on Syria before making a decision about whether to launch strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, President Francois Hollande’s office says.
Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border. UN chemical weapons experts also have left Syria and crossed into neighbouring Lebanon ahead of an expected military strike. Picture: AP
The comments from an official in the French president’s office came as the world reacted to word from President Barack Obama that he believes the United States should respond with force over an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime, but that he has decided to put the issue before the US Congress first.
UN vows ‘impartial’ study as investigators leave Syria
Also overnight, the United Nations vowed to give an “impartial and credible” assessment on whether chemical arms were used in Syria as tensions rose over a possible military strike.
But UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said no conclusion can be given on whether banned poison gas had been unleashed in Syria until laboratory tests are completed.
The UN inspectors have a mandate to report on whether banned chemical weapons have been used in the 29-month-old war in Syria – particularly during an August 21 attack on an opposition area near Damascus – but not to say who carried it out. Mr Obama said he is prepared to take military action without waiting for the UN, which he slammed as “paralysed” over the situation.
The inspectors have taken the samples to The Hague and they will be moved to two laboratories in Europe.
A UN convoy of vehicles drives through the Lebanese village of Taanayel after crossing into Lebanon from Syria on August 31. The team of UN inspectors left Damascus after completing their probe into a suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus. Picture: AFP
According to diplomats, Mr Ban told ambassadors from Britain, France, the United States, China and Russia on Friday that the team would need two weeks to complete a first analysis.
Syria ‘has finger on the trigger’
Ahead of Mr Obama’s comments Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said the army is ready to retaliate after potential foreign strikes against the country.
“The Syrian army is fully ready, its finger on the trigger to face any challenge or scenario that they want to carry out,” he said in a written statement aired on state television on Saturday.
A Syrian security official who wished to remain anonymous said the country was expecting an assault “at any moment”.
Obama says world can’t stand by on Syria
Barack Obama says war weariness cannot excuse the world from its responsibility to stop violence in Syria.
Sky News30 August 2013
Putin says US claim ‘nonsense’; Iran warns against attack
Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards warned that a US strike on Syria would trigger reactions beyond the borders of Tehran’s key regional ally.
“The fact that the Americans believe that military intervention will be limited to within Syrian borders is an illusion; it will provoke reactions beyond that country,” the ISNA news agency quoted commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying.
“Just as US interventions in the Islamic world (Afghanistan, Iraq) have bolstered extremism, so will an aggression on Syria reinforce extremism and, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, its results will be pain, massacre and the exodus of the innocent population,” he added.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed as “nonsense” American claims that the Syria regime has used chemical weapons and he has demanded that the United States provide proof. A US intelligence report on Friday said the Syrian regime was responsible for chemical attacks that killed 1429 people, including at least 426 children.
Mr Putin rejected communications intercepts as evidence, saying that they cannot be used to take “fundamental decisions” like using military force on Syria.
“Common sense speaks for itself,” he told journalists in Vladivostok when asked about claims that the Syrian army used chemical weapons.
“Syrian government troops are on the offensive and have surrounded the opposition in several regions. In these conditions, to give a trump card to those who are calling for a military intervention is utter nonsense.
“Regarding the position of our American colleagues, friends, who affirm that government troops used weapons of mass destruction, in this case chemical weapons, and say that they have proof, well, let them show it to the United Nations inspectors and the Security Council,” he said.
Syrians flee the country ahead of possible strikes
Most Syrians fleeing the country had the means and money to do so. Not so for Aicha, a 60-year-old woman wearing a black veil, her lower jaw almost toothless.
Sitting in the shade with her daughter-in-law, she said she arrived on Friday to accompany her son who travelled on to Turkey to find work, and intended to return to Damascus if she could find transport.
“I’m scared, we’re all scared of US strikes, but what can we do? We are dependent on God,” she sighed.
“We are neutral in this war, we don’t understand anything about what is going on. We have lost our house and we are living with friends in another area.”
Majida, her 33-year-old daughter-in-law, added that they would like to stay in Lebanon.
“But we don’t have any money, we have nowhere to go. So we have to go back,” she said.
For almost a year, the Qatari NGO Al Asmah, funded by rich families from the Arab state, has set up a centre in Masnaa to welcome Syrian refugees.
Flashing their Syrian identity cards, refugees are able to get cartons of food and other useful items.
“Over the past few days, since the US threats, the number of families that we see has doubled,” said director Omar Mohammed Koeis.
“We now provide for 60 to 70 families a day.”
In a nearby parking lot, Amer Abed, a 27-year-old unemployed man who came from a Damascus suburb, was emptying the contents of the overflowing boot of an old Mercedes car into a van.
Weary women got out of the car, holding young, surprised-looking children in their arms.
“I want these US strikes to happen,” he said to several foreign journalists.
“You journalists, and the entire world, are watching our country go up in flames without doing anything. Hate has taken over our hearts.
“I want these strikes because if Americans attack us and kill us once and for all, then maybe the Arabs will unite to defend us.”
UN inspectors out of Syria
UN inspectors leave Syria and arrive in Lebanon amid looming Western military action. Rough Cut (no reporter narration)
Reuters31 August 2013
US intelligence report: Syria regime behind chemical attacks
A US intelligence report on Friday concluded the Syrian regime launched a chemical onslaught in the suburbs of Damascus last week, killing 1429 people, including at least 426 children.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the report gathered evidence from thousands of sources and the intelligence community has ”high confidence” the regime was responsible for the attack.
Syria said that the US intelligence report was ”entirely fabricated”.
”What the US administration describes as irrefutable evidence … is nothing but tired legends that the terrorists have been circulating for more than a week, with their share of lies and entirely fabricated stories,” a foreign ministry statement read out on state television said.