President Barack Obama on Friday declined to speculate whether he would go ahead with a military strike in Syria if Congress votes against authorizing it, saying he would try to convince Americans and lawmakers of the need to act against the goverment of President Bashar Assad.
"I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad's use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States," Obama said in a news conference at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
If there had been a direct threat to the United States or allies, Obama said, he would have taken action without consulting Congress.
Obama also said on Friday there’s an increasing global consensus that Syria must be confronted over its use of chemical weapons and that he plans to make his case in an address to the American people next week.
“There is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by” and “there needs to be a strong response,” Obama said during a news conference at the close of an international summit in Russia.
Obama said he planned to speak to the American public about Syria on Tuesday as Congress considers his request for limited military action in Syria.
Speaking to reporters at an international diplomatic summit, Obama said the leaders of the world's largest economies agreed that chemical weapons were used in Syria and that the international ban on chemical weapons needs to be maintained.
However, he said, there was disagreement about whether force could be used in Syria without going through the United Nations. The United States has been unable to win U.N. Security Council approval for military action against Syria because of the opposition of veto-wielding Russia.
"The majority of the room is comfortable with our conclusion that Assad, the Assad government, was responsible for their use," he said at a news conference, adding that this is disputed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A number of countries believed that any military force needed to be decided at U.N. Security Council, a view he said he does not share.
"Given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical-weapons use, then an international response is required, and that will not come through Security Council action," he said.
Obama has been trying to rally support internationally and domestically for a limited military response to the chemical-weapons attack on Syrian civilians Aug. 21.
Obama held an unscheduled meeting earlier today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is Assad’s ally and has questioned U.S. evidence that the Syrian government was behind the chemical weapons attack. At his own news conference today, Putin said Russia will continue aiding Syria if the U.S. launches a strike.
The U.S. president said the discussion was “very straightforward” and focused on their differences on Syria.
Russia has blocked action at the United Nations to authorize a military attack against Syria, and Obama is seeking to rally support among U.S. allies.
So far, only France has indicated willingness to go along with an armed response. Major economies that Obama is seeking diplomatic support from include the U.K., Australia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Obama met at the summit with the leaders of France, China, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico.
Obama leaves Russia tonight and returns to Washington to continue pressing Congress for authorization for a Syria attack. He said he plans to deliver an address on Sept. 10 from the White House.
He again stressed that any action would be “limited both in time and in scope.”
U.S. lawmakers are asking questions about the size and cost of a military operation that Obama has said would be limited and not involve U.S. ground troops.
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