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31 Aug, 2013 17:55

Obama seeks Congress approval for Syria strike

Barack Obama has filed a formal request seeking authorization from legislators to launch a "limited" strike on Syria, in response to its government’s alleged use of chemical weapons. The president said the proposed strike was not "time-sensitive".

The draft legislation authorizes Obama to use the "Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" in order to "prevent or deter the use or proliferation" of chemical weapons and to "protect the United States and its allies" against the chemical threat.

Earlier on Saturday Obama made a press statement outside the White House saying, "over the last several days, we have heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree."

The President insisted that he did not need the approval of the legislative assembly, but it would make the case for the strike “stronger”.

Obama said that he sought to “make the Assad regime accountable” for the August 21 attack near Damascus in which the US says more than 1,500 civilians were killed with a toxic gas.

But he also said that the mission will be "effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now."

"We are prepared to strike whenever we choose," said the President.

I understand and support Barack Obama's position on #Syria.

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) August 31, 2013

Congress returns to session on September 9, and will immediately begin debating the Syrian operation.

"We are glad the President is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

"In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9th," said the release. "This provides the President time to make his case to Congress and the American people." 

Senate majority leader Harry Reid believes that the US Senate will vote on a resolution authorizing military action no later than the week of September 9.

The Senate also plans to hold public hearings next week with senior administration officials.  Classified and unclassified briefings for senators throughout the week are also anticipated.

"I believe the use of military force against Syria is both justified and necessary," Reid said in a statement, blaming the Assad government for "atrocities" against civilians.

Obama said that he was heedful of a similar debate conducted in the UK parliament, in which the Conservative government, which endorses direct military action, was defeated by the opposition.

The President stated that he would not rely on unanimous consensus of the UN Security Council, which was necessary for a United Nations-backed operation, saying the body had been “paralyzed”. Russia and China have repeatedly voted against the West on Syria, and Vladimir Putin has said that claims Bashar Assad’s government was behind the gas attack were “a provocation”.

A UN expert team has completed a survey of the area affected by the August 21 incident, but has not yet presented its results. The US says that it has a “high confidence” in its assertion that government forces were to blame for the toxic gas release, based on intelligence reports, video clips and eyewitness accounts.

"History would judge us extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency," said Obama.

But the US leader insisted that the operation against "thug and murderer" Assad would not be “open-ended” and wouldn’t involve “boots on the ground”.

"I know well that we are weary of war. We ended a war in Iraq, we are ending another in Afghanistan."

"That's why we are not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else's war." 

The Syrian government, which says that the opposition, who have fought a 30-month long rebellion, are behind the attack, has asserted that it has “its finger on the trigger to face any challenge or scenario they [the US] want to carry out.”