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Obama Seeking Lawmakers' Approval For Syria Strike

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President Obama made the statement as he spoke to members of the media on Saturday at the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington.  [AP Photo] President Obama made the statement as he spoke to members of the media on Saturday at the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. [AP Photo]
WASHINGTON -

Facing resistance at home and abroad about the prospect of a U.S. attack on Syria, President Obama said Saturday that he has decided the U.S. should take military action on the Syrian regime in retaliation for its use of chemical weapons.

He also promised to seek congressional approval after lawmakers return from their recess Sept. 9, saying that he does not believe the law requires him to seek approval, but America will be "stronger" if he does.

"Ten days ago the world watched in horror as men, women and children were massacred in Syria in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century," Mr. Obama said, calling the attack an "assault on human dignity" and saying the U.S. had presented a convincing case that the regime of Bashar Assad was responsible.

"In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted," he said. "After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets."

The president reiterated that the intervention would be "limited in duration in scope," and he suggested that the attack plan is not time sensitive - that it would be as effective in a month as it would be immediately.

"The military has positioned assets in the region. We are prepared to strike whenever we choose," he said, "and I am prepared to give that order."

In addition, perhaps nodding to the many lawmakers who have demanded the president seek congressional approval before launching any military action, Mr. Obama said he would "seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress."

"This morning I spoke with [congressional leaders in both houses from both parties], and they've agreed to schedule a debate and a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session," he said. "While I believe I have the authority to carry out this action without specific congressional authorization, our country will be stronger if we take this course."

"We should have this debate because the issues are too big for business as usual," the president said, posing a question to those members of Congress who have questioned the wisdom or legality of U.S. action in Syria: "What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children in plain sight and pay no price?"

The president acknowledged the British Parliament's failure this week to approve a resolution sanctioning intervention in Syria, but he vowed to seek a similar vote in Congress despite the resistance among Capitol Hill rank and file, saying he's "looking forward to the debate."

Immediate congressional reaction to the president's statement sounded an encouraged note. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement that "the president's role as commander-in-chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress."

Earlier Saturday, the administration said that Mr. Obama's national security team would brief members of the full Senate and House on the administration's Syrian strategy on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

On Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, among others, were scheduled to hold an unclassified conference call with Senate Democrats and Republicans to "continue the administration's consultations regarding [the Syrian government's] use of chemical weapons in Syria on August 21," according to a White House official.

And on Sunday afternoon, at the request of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, administration officials will meet in person with Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Though many members have returned to their districts for the August congressional recess, the briefing will be held on Capitol Hill.

On Saturday morning, members of the president's national security team, including Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Attorney General Eric Holder, were spotted entering the White House. Administration officials declined to characterize any national security meetings under way on Saturday.

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry laid out evidence that gives U.S. officials "high confidence" that Assad's regime was responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Syria's capital that killed 1,429 civilians, including 426 children, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence report.

"So the primary question is really no longer 'What do we know?'" Kerry said. "The question is...'What are we in the world going to do about it?'"

Kerry and Mr. Obama made a moral and instrumental case on Friday for a strong U.S. response to Syria's use of chemical weapons, which both characterized as a violation of a critically important international norm. Mr. Obama said Assad's use of chemical weapons posed a direct threat to U.S. national security because it would undermine the international consensus against the use of such weapons and could embolden other rogue regimes to flout international norms in a similar fashion.

The president emphasized on Friday, as he did again on Saturday, that the intervention would be "limited" and "narrow" in scope and would not involve boots on the ground. However, he and Kerry both warned that the consequences of doing nothing would greatly outstrip the perils of action.

Regardless, many in Congress continued to raise concerns about the possibility of U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war, and the weekend's briefings are likely intended to tamp down concern among lawmakers about the wisdom and legality of the planned U.S. strike.

Some lawmakers have pushed for quick, robust action in Syria, while others have said they would not support a strike they don't believe is in America's security interests. Finding a middle ground, many lawmakers simply urged the administration to consult more closely with Congress as it mulls a path forward in Syria.

In a letter sent to the president this week, Boehner urged Mr. Obama to provide a "clear, unambiguous explanation" of how the potential military action would serve U.S. interests and where it would fit into the administration's overall policy on the Syrian civil war.

Others went a step further, urging the president to not only consult with Congress, but to receive congressional approval before authorizing a strike. In a letter signed by 116 members, Republicans and Democrats alike, Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., told Mr. Obama on Wednesday that the War Powers Act requires him to obtain congressional approval before launching a military strike abroad.

8/30/2013 Related Story: Obama: US Has Obligation As World Leader To Act

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