WASHINGTON - As the U.S. moved toward a possible military strike, President Barack Obama said even limited retaliation for Syria's alleged chemical weapons use would send a "strong signal" to its vulnerable government. The administration scrambled Thursday to convince Congress members and international allies of the case against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
New hurdles appeared to be slowing the formation of an international coalition behind military action to punish Assad for the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians last week.
Russia blocked British efforts to seek a resolution at the United Nations authorizing the use of force. British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would hold off on joining any military efforts until a U.N. chemical weapons inspection team releases its findings. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the team is expected to complete its inspection Friday and report to him Saturday; they will share their conclusions with members of the Security Council, Ban said, but he didn't specify when that might happen.
"If any action would be taken against Syria it would be an international collaboration," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated Thursday. But the United States won't wait for U.N. backing to act, administration officials said.
The president said that while he had not settled on a response, the U.S. has concluded that Assad's government perpetrated a chemical weapons attack.
"And if that's so," Obama said during an interview with "NewsHour" on PBS, "then there need to be international consequences."
Obama did not present specific evidence to back up his assertion that the Assad regime is responsible for the Aug. 21 attack.
Many Congress members were pressing Obama to explain the need for military action and address fears that such a move might draw the U.S. deeper into the Syrian civil war. Both Democrats and Republicans were among lawmakers protesting that Obama hasn't made the case for a military strike, with some arguing that the president needs congressional authorization to order an attack.
U.S. officials were in search of additional intelligence to bolster the White House's case for a strike against Assad's military infrastructure. American intelligence intercepted lower-level Syrian military commanders' communications discussing the chemical attack, but the communications don't specifically link the attack to an official senior enough to tie the killings to Assad himself,