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Obama seeks Congress authorization to strike Syria

Published: Updated:

U.S. President Barack Obama decided on Saturday to ask Congress to authorize military action against Syria, in retaliation for what the U.S. says is a chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“The U.S. should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” Obama said when speaking to Americans in a televised address, but he added that he “will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”

The president, however, said that he was willing to proceed without the consent of the United Nations, a body which he called “paralyzed.”

Obama described the chemical attack in Syria on Aug. 21 as the “worse massacre by chemical weapons in the 21st century” and an “attack on human dignity.”

Washington says Assad’s government carried out a chemical weapons attack against civilians in a Damascus district where more than 1,400 Syrians were killed.

Obama said it was the responsibility of the U.S. to enforce the international consensus against the use of such weapons and added that the “[U.S.] military has positioned assets in the region.”

The president, however, didn’t give an exact time frame to launch the strike.

“We are prepared to strike whenever we choose,” and that could happen “tomorrow or next week or one month from now.”

In response, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives said on Saturday that the U.S. Congress will begin to debate a possible military strike against Syria during the week beginning Sept. 9.

“We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria,” Agence France-Presse quoted House Speaker John Boehner and other senior lawmakers as saying, in a statement issued shortly after Obama’s announcement.

Obama now risks the same fate as British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was defeated Friday when he lost his motion in support of military action on Syria.

After Obama’s speech, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Saturday that he understood the American leader’s decision to ask the U.S. Congress on for permission regarding a Syria strike.

“I understand and support Barack Obama’s position on Syria,” AFP quoted Cameron’s as saying in a tweet.

UK’s opposition Labour party had called for “compelling” evidence that Syrian Assad’s regime had gassed its own people before the West launches an attack.

Obama also told Cameron in a phone call on Friday that he “fully respected” the decision, according to Downing Street.

Syria, meanwhile, said Saturday it has its “finger on the trigger” as it braced for what it had considered an imminent Western military strike, following the departure of U.N. weapons inspectors.

(With AFP, Reuters, and Associated Press)