Obama makes headway

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s efforts to persuade the US Congress to back his plan to attack Syria were met with skepticism yesterday from lawmakers in his own Democratic Party who expressed concern the United States would be dragged into a new Middle East conflict.

“There is a lot of skepticism,” said Representative Jim Moran after taking part in a 70-minute phone briefing for Democratic lawmakers by Obama’s top national security aides about the response to a chemical weapons attack that US officials say killed 1,429 people on the outskirts of Damascus.

Obama appeared to make some headway, however, with two influential Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who came out of a White House meeting convinced that Obama is willing to use air strikes not just to destroy Syrian chemical weapons capability but also to bolster Syrian rebels.

McCain, long an advocate of a more robust US approach to Syria, said failure to get behind strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces would be “catastrophic”.

While Obama faced obstacles at home, key US ally France said it had evidence showing that Assad’s government had ordered chemical attacks and was determined to punish him.

The French government released a nine-page intelligence document that listed five points that suggested Assad’s fighters were behind the “massive and coordinated” August 21 chemical attack.

Assad, in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, warned the French to steer clear of policies hostile to Syrians or else, “the state will be their enemy”.

Obama’s abrupt decision to halt plans for a strike against Assad’s forces and instead wait for congressional approval has generated a raging debate just as the president prepared to depart today on a three-day trip to Sweden and Russia.

The biggest obstacle he faces is winning the support of members of his own party in the House of Representatives and conservative Republicans who see little need for the United States to get involved in distant civil wars. (Reuters)

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