WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama faced resistance today to plans for a possible military strike against Syria, with wary lawmakers in both the United States and Britain demanding more proof that Bashar Assad's government perpetrated a deadly chemical weapons attack against civilians. Even so, military action could come within days.
Assad vowed his country "will defend itself against any aggression."
The White House sought to ease growing concerns on Capitol Hill, deploying a bevy of top administration officials to brief lawmakers this evening on U.S. intelligence assessments. Obama also discussed the situation in Syria with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who wrote to the president earlier this week seeking a legal justification for a military strike and the objectives of any potential action.
Yet it appeared likely that an American military operation could happen without formal authorization from Capitol Hill or the United Nations, where Russia has blocked efforts to seek a resolution authorizing the use of force. It remained unclear whether the U.S. would launch strikes on its own or in concert with allies like Britain and France.
Waiting for British participation would mean holding off on a strike at least until the weekend. Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would not join in military efforts until a U.N. chemical weapons inspection team on the ground in Syria releases its findings.
Some of the U.N. chemical weapons experts will travel directly from Syria on Saturday to different laboratories around Europe to deliver "an extensive amount of material" gathered, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said. While the mandate of the U.N. team is to determine whether chemical agents were used in the attack, not who was responsible, Haq suggested the evidence — which includes biological samples and witness interviews — might give an indication of who deployed gases.
Obama and other top officials say Assad's government is responsible for the Aug. 21 attack. Yet the administration has not revealed definitive evidence to back its claims. U.S. officials say the intelligence assessments are no "slam dunk," with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria's chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike.