London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Democrat and Republican leaders in the US Congress said they would back the White House’s plans for a military strike against the Syrian government following a meeting with President Obama on Tuesday morning.
John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, respectively the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the leader of the Democratic members, both said that they would urge the members of their parties to vote in favor of authorizing strikes against the government of Bashar Al-Assad.
The US, along with the governments of the UK, France, Germany, and the Arab League have accused Syrian government forces of using sarin gas to kill over a thousand civilians in eastern Damascus on August 21.
Prior to the meeting, Obama told reporters that he intended to “present the evidence to all of the leading members of Congress and their various foreign policy committees as to why we have high confidence that chemical weapons were used and that Assad used them, but it also gives us an opportunity to discuss why it’s so important that he be held to account.”
Speaking after the meeting at the White House between President Obama and his senior aides and Congressional party leaders and the chairpersons of its intelligence and foreign affairs committees, Boehner said: “The use of these [chemical] weapons have to be responded to, and only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad.”
Pelosi, speaking to reporters after the same meeting, said that the attack of August 21 was “outside the circle of civilized behavior.”
She added that she felt the case for action was “strong,” and “I feel pretty confident…that we have a good conversation to have with our members.”
The two were joined by Eric Cantor, leader of the House’s Republicans, who also issued a statement of support for the president’s proposal for military strikes on Syria after the meeting.
The statement said: “I intend to vote to provide the President of the United States the option to use military force in Syria. While the authorizing language will likely change, the underlying reality will not. America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state such as Syria, and to prevent further instability in a region of vital interest to the United States.”
However, despite the endorsement of the majority and minority leaders, and the speaker in the lower house, it remains unclear if a majority of members of Congress will back Obama’s plans, in the face of widespread indifference to the war in Syria among the US public, and the weak party discipline of the US Congress.
Both the Obama administration and some members of Congress maintain that the president still has the authority to order strikes independent of Congressional authorization, though Obama has given no indication as to how he will proceed in the face of Congressional disapproval, though he told reporters he was “confident” of receiving Congressional backing.
He described the proposed military action as “a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences.”
Obama also claimed that it would “degrade Assad’s capabilities when it comes to chemical weapons,” and serve wider strategic goals of achieving a political solution to the conflict.
Elsewhere, an Israeli missile test provoked a flurry of media speculation that attacks on Syria had already begun after the Russian government announced its surveillance radars had detected two “ballistic objects” flying over the eastern Mediterranean and landing in the sea.
The government of Israel subsequently announced it had conducted an air defense missile test, and the objects detected by Russian radar were rockets used to simulate a ballistic missile strike.
The designer of Israel’s “Arrow” air defense missile told Reuters news agency that tests of anti-missile systems are planned in advance and usually pass unnoticed. “What apparently made the difference today is the high state of tension over Syria and Russia’s unusual vigilance,” he added.