STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now let's hear some of the response from overseas to the U.S. attack that seemed imminent and was then delayed.
NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Beirut.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Syria's pro-government Al-Thawra newspaper called it a historic American retreat. And supporters of President Bashar al-Assad said they were teaching the world a lesson in strong leadership.
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad told the BBC that President Obama's speech may reflect a more thoughtful approach, but doesn't fundamentally change anything. He said whether America strikes Syria immediately or after a pause, the results would be equally disastrous.
FAISAL MAKDAD: More hatred for the Americans, more weakening of international institutions. Terrorism will flourish everywhere. This will undermine the security of Americans, inside and outside their country. Al-Qaida is there. Any attack against Syria is support of al-Qaida and its affiliates.
KENYON: Makdad also reiterated Syria's denial that it was government forces that used chemical weapons in an attack in the Ghouta suburb of the capital where Washington says more than 1,400 people were killed, more than 400 of them children.
MAKDAD: No, absolutely not. Chemical weapons and agents were used by the armed groups who are supported by the United States, by Turkey, by Saudi Arabia, among others.
KENYON: If Syria seemed pleased, the reaction from others in the region ranged from confusion to dismay. A deflated-sounding Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, issued a statement from Istanbul calling on Congress to make the right choice and support the president's efforts. The group added that the international community's inaction during the past two-and-a-half years, quote, "allowed the regime to escalate the conflict to the point where it thought it could use chemical weapons with impunity." Turkey's prime minister, who thinks President Obama's limited strike wouldn't go far enough, says Turkey will be part of any international coalition. Russia, preparing to host the G20 summit this week, remains strongly opposed to military action. France says it won't act without a coalition, and Britain has refused to join one. Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo to discuss Syria, with strong divisions over how to respond. Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, made perhaps the strongest call for more action against Syria.
SAUD AL-FAISAL: (Through translator) Along with the Syrian people, we demand the international community to take all necessary measures to help them, and stop the hooliganism of the murderers. We support them, and we will not be satisfied by just condemning the situation. We demand the full support of the international community to stop the attacks on the Syrian people before they perish.
KENYON: Middle East analyst Emile Hokayem with the International Institute for Strategic Studies says the limited nature of the proposed U.S. strike and the divisiveness among the Western allies have Arab governments jittery, wondering if this is how the West confronts Syria's use of horrific weapons, how will it respond to Iran's nuclear ambitions? Hokayem says regional disenchantment with U.S. foreign policy has been building for some time, and this latest step back from action will only exacerbate that.
EMILE HOKAYEM: Well, I mean, the U.S. has botched every approach: the decision to arm the rebels, now the strikes, and - but also diplomacy. And there is a suspicion today among many Syrians - and many Arabs, for that matter - that the U.S. is content with the current stalemate.
KENYON: Analysts say a diplomatic solution still represents the least bloody answer to the conflict, but is more unlikely than ever in the current climate - not least because America's top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, is now seen as one of the leading hawks in favor of replacing the man he called a thug and a murderer, Bashar al-Assad. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.
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