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President Obama seeks support for Syria strike at G-20

By Julie Pace

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3 2013 11:31 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama, flanked by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to media in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, before a meeting with members of Congress to discuss the situation in Syria.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — Facing obstacles at home and abroad, President Barack Obama this week plans to urge reluctant world leaders to back an American-led strike against Syria even though the prospects for military action could depend on a fractured U.S. Congress.

The uncertainty surrounding Syria will hang over the president's three-day overseas trip, which includes a global summit in Russia after a stop in Sweden. So will Obama's tense relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the world leader who is hosting the Group of 20 gathering and has perhaps done the most to stymie international efforts to oust Syria's Bashar Assad.

"It's been like watching a slow-moving train wreck for nearly two years," said Andrew Kuchins, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, of the Obama-Putin relationship. "Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama don't like each other at all. I think there's a deep degree of disrespect."

That's not Obama's only headache as he embarks on the long-planned trip.

The timing pulls him away from Washington just as he's urgently seeking to rally lawmakers to support military action in Syria in response to what the administration says was a chemical weapons attack. And his unexpected announcement over the weekend that he would punt the decision to Congress on whether to strike Syria may have stoked doubts among world leaders about his willingness to make good on his threats to rogue nations.

Obama's effort gained significant momentum Tuesday after bipartisan congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, both Republicans, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, said they are convinced Assad used chemical weapons against his fellow countrymen and that the United States must respond to send the message that such acts will not be tolerated.

While Syria isn't officially on the agenda at the economy-focused G-20 summit, Obama administration officials say the president sees the gathering as an opportunity to press his counterparts to support military action against the Assad regime. World leaders also will seek guidance from the U.S. president about whether he plans to proceed with a strike if Congress rejects his proposed resolution — a question Obama's aides have refused to answer.

Obama discussed Syria ahead of the meeting by telephone Monday night with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the White House said Tuesday. A White House statement said Obama and Abe pledged to consult on a possible international response.

Votes in the House and the Senate are expected next week, just after Obama wraps up his trip.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been pushing for stronger action in Syria, said he expected Obama to continue his outreach with Congress even while traveling.

"It's harder when you're overseas," McCain said after meeting with Obama at the White House on Monday, "but he's been manning the phones here the whole time and he'll continue to do that. He's all in on this, obviously."

Obama is to arrive in Stockholm on Wednesday morning after an overnight flight from Washington.

The White House hastily added the Sweden visit to Obama's schedule after he scrapped plans to meet one-on-one with Putin in Moscow ahead of the G-20. That came in response to the Kremlin granting temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying Obama's requests to send the former NSA systems analyst back to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

Snowden's leaks to American and foreign news organizations about secret government spying programs have sparked outrage overseas, particularly in Europe. Obama is likely to face questions about the scope of the programs while overseas, as he did earlier this summer during meetings with the Group of 8 industrial nations.

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