September 9, 2013

Obama steps up his pitch to strike Syria

He says Syria's offer of giving up all chemical weapons is positive, but 'if we don't maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure,' Syria may back off its proposal.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Battling stiff resistance in Congress, President Barack Obama conceded Monday night he might lose his fight for congressional support of a military strike against Syria, and declined to say what he would do if lawmakers reject his call to back retaliation for a chemical weapons attack last month.

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Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria shout during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington on Monday. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama will address the nation regarding Syria.

The Associated Press

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The president made his comments as a glimmer of a possible diplomatic solution appeared after months of defiance from the Russian-backed government of President Bashar Assad in Syria. In a rapid response, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cited "international discussions" in unexpectedly postponing a test vote originally set for Wednesday on Obama's call for legislation backing a military strike.

In a series of six network interviews planned as part of a furious lobbying campaign in Congress, Obama said statements suggesting that Syria might agree to surrender control of its chemical weapons stockpile were a potentially positive development.

At the same time, he said they were yet another reason for lawmakers to give him the backing he is seeking.

"If we don't maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure, I do not think we will actually get the kind of agreement I would like to see," he said on CNN.

In a separate interview with NBC, the president took the step — unusual for any politician — of conceding he may lose his campaign in Congress for legislation authorizing a military strike. "I wouldn't say I'm confident" of the outcome, he said.

"I think it's fair to say that I haven't decided" on a next step if Congress turns its back, the president told NBC, part of a furious lobbying campaign aimed at winning support from dubious lawmakers as well as a war-weary public.

The president picked up a smattering of support but also suffered a reversal when Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, announced he had switched from a backer of military action to an opponent.

"They're in tough shape. It is getting late," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., after he and other lawmakers emerged from a closed-door meeting with administration officials. The New York Republican favors the legislation that Obama wants, but he said the president didn't need to seek it and now must show that a strike "is in America's national security interest."

Classified briefings for lawmakers just back from vacation, the public release of cringe-inducing videos of men, women and children writhing in agony from the evident effects of chemical gas, and a half-dozen network news interviews featuring Obama were folded into the White House bid to avert a humiliating defeat over the next 10 days. Obama met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus during the day, and arranged a trip to the Capitol as well as a prime-time speech from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.

In the Senate, Reid said he had discussed a delay in Wednesday's scheduled initial vote with the president.

Earlier, Reid had spoken strongly in support of the president's request.

"Today, many Americans say that these atrocities are none of our business, that they're not our concern," the Nevada Democrat said of Assad's alleged gassing of civilians on Aug. 21. "I disagree. Any time the powerful turn such weapons of terror and destruction against the powerless, it is our business."

Others came down on the other side of the question.

(Continued on page 2)

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