WASHINGTON, D.C.: President Barack Obama said on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) he had not yet signed off on a plan to attack Syria, but action appeared likely after Washington stopped seeking a United Nations (UN) mandate.
Political uproar in London, meanwhile, cast doubt on whether Britain will join American military action to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for a chemical weapons attack, should the response take place before next week.
And a team of UN inspectors pressed on with its hazardous work in Damascus, testing victims of the alleged poison gas attack, which killed hundreds of people last week and threatens to draw reluctant Western states into a vicious civil war.
Obama, who has warned that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a United States (US) “red line,” said Washington had definitively concluded that the Assad regime was to blame for last week’s attack.
A senior White House official said that the administration will brief senior US lawmakers on Thursday about classified intelligence about the chemical attack.
Asked how close he was to ordering a US strike, expected to start with cruise missile raids, Obama told PBS NewsHour: “I have not made a decision.”
But he warned that US action would be designed to send a “shot across the bow” to convince Syria it had “better not do it again.”
He admitted that the limited strikes envisioned by the White House would not stop the killing of civilians in Syria but said he had decided that getting involved in a civil war that has already killed 100,000 people would not help the situation.
The US leader, who wants to seal a legacy of ending foreign wars, not getting into new ones, argued that it was vital to send a clear message not just to Syria, but around the world.
“We do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable.”
Earlier, Washington bluntly signaled that a UN Security Council resolution proposed by Britain that could have given a legal basis for an assault was going nowhere, owing to Russian opposition.
“We see no avenue forward, given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful Council action on Syria,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“We cannot be held up in responding by Russia’s continued intransigence at the United Nations, and quite frankly the situation is so serious that it demands a response,” Harf said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was meanwhile slowed by a parliamentary revolt and was forced to pledge he would not order military action until the report by UN inspectors has been published.
White House officials would not immediately say whether Washington would wait for Britain before launching any military action.