Obama 'Concluded' Syrian Regime Conducted Chemical Attack

President Obama says, though he has not decided whether to take military action against Syria, he is convinced the government used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. He is consulting with U.S. allies over whether to launch a limited strike. Meanwhile, Congress will be briefed on the situation Thursday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

This morning in Syria, U.N. inspectors continue their investigation into last week's chemical weapons attack, which apparently killed hundreds of civilians. The U.N. plans for the inspection team to be in Syria's capital, Damascus, until Saturday.

MONTAGNE: Meanwhile, both the U.S. Congress and Britain's parliament want to weigh in before the U.S. or Great Britain launch any kind of military strike against the Syrian regime. In London, Prime Minister David Cameron had hoped to win quick parliamentary approval for a British role in a strike on Syria. And now it looks like that debate will run into next week.

GREENE: Here in Washington, senior officials from the Obama administration plan to brief congressional leaders today. President Obama says he has concluded that Syria's government is responsible for the attack. And he says the widespread use of chemical weapons is a breach of international norms that cannot go unanswered. But he is facing some tough questions from members of Congress.

Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama says he hasn't made a final decision to launch a strike against Syria. But he's had extensive discussions with his national security team and the military has been drawing up options. Obama says almost no one disputes that chemical weapons were used in last Wednesday's attack. And while U.S. intelligence agencies are still trying to gather evidence, Obama told the "PBS NewsHour" last night he has no doubt the Syrian government is to blame.

(SOUNDBITE OF PBS BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We do not believe that given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government, in fact, carried these out. And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences.

HORSLEY: So far the administration has not presented any evidence linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the attack. And some members of Congress argue they should have a say before any military action is taken. House Speaker John Boehner has said there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability in the region.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told Fox News the U.S. military shouldn't be used as an international policeman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

SENATOR TED CRUZ: Secretary Kerry and the president have said they want to go to the United Nations for approval. How about going to the United States Congress? You know, the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war. And this president doesn't seem to view it as remotely a priority, to go to Congress, to make the case why any military action is in our national security. And I think that's his responsibility.

HORSLEY: The president argues that the U.S. does have national security interests at stake, with military bases throughout the Middle East, and close allies, including Israel, Turkey and Jordan nearby. Obama notes Syria is still sitting on a large stockpile of chemical weapons, in a volatile part of the world. He told the "NewsHour" it's not in the U.S. national security interest to let use of those weapons go unpunished.

(SOUNDBITE OF PBS BROADCAST)

OBAMA: We want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people - against women, against infants, against children - that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you're also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected, and that needs to stop.

HORSLEY: Polls taken before last week's chemical attack showed little public appetite for stepped-up U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war. Obama stressed he has no interest in an open-ended conflict either. But he said any military strike would be limited and tailored.

OBAMA: Not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about. But if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long-term, and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians.

HORSLEY: Any strike would likely come without the blessing of the United Nations, where Russia can exercise its veto power. Britain pushed for military authorization yesterday, but a meeting of the five permanent Security Council members ended with no resolution.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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