WASHINGTON, DC (AFP) – U.S. President Barack Obama was set on Monday to step up his high-stakes lobbying campaign to win over skeptical lawmakers to back military action against Syria.
The strategy, outlined by a senior White House official, came as Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington had proof the Damascus regime used sarin gas in a deadly attack on August 21.
But Russia said it was totally unconvinced by the evidence presented by the United States and its allies of an alleged chemical attack outside Damascus that the West says was perpetrated by the regime.
“What we were shown before and most recently by our American partners as well the British and the French absolutely does not convince us,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, adding there were “many doubts” about images of the alleged attack posted on the Internet.
Arab League foreign ministers urged the United Nations and international community to take “deterrent” action, and blamed the regime for the alleged chemical weapons assault.
And a defiant President Bashar al-Assad insisted that Syria would confront any military action.
With all eyes on Washington, Obama — as well as Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — made individual calls to members of Congress Sunday, according to the official. More are planned for Monday, a federal holiday.
That came on top of a classified briefing held on Capitol Hill late Sunday. More meetings, at the White House, are planned for select members of Congress over the coming two days.
On the heels of Obama’s surprise announcement, the White House formally asked Congress on Saturday for authorization to conduct strikes in a draft resolution framing a narrow set of operations.
But it remains to be seen if war-weary lawmakers will endorse Obama’s push for action — or hand him a bitter defeat. Many, including influential Republican Senator John McCain, remain unsure they can support the White House resolution.
“In all calls and briefings, we will be making the same fundamental case: the failure to take action against Assad unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use, and it risks emboldening Assad and his key allies — Hezbollah and Iran — who will see that there are no consequences for such a flagrant violation of an international norm,” the senior White House official said.
“Anyone who is concerned about Iran and its efforts in the region should support this action.”
Pushing the administration’s argument for limited military action, Kerry told U.S. television talk shows that hair and blood samples given to the U.S. from emergency workers on the scene of the attack showed signs of the powerful sarin nerve gas.
A key U.S. ally, however, suggested that limited strikes were not the way to go.