White House to saturate airwaves with Obama’s message on Syria
The Obama administration on Sunday ramped up efforts to build support for a military strike on Syria, with Secretary of State John F. Kerry meeting in Europe with allies and Arab leaders and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough blitzing the U.S. political talk shows to urge Congress to back President Obama.
“The risks of inaction outweigh the risks of action,” Mr. McDonough said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” one of the five shows he hit a day before Mr. Obama is scheduled to be interviewed by the six major broadcast news networks.
On Tuesday, the president will take to the airwaves to make his case directly to the American public for a limited attack on Syria.
The White House intensified its lobbying efforts after a week in which opposition to a proposed U.S.-led strike seemed to build in Congress and the president returned from the Group of 20 summit in Russia with no firm commitments from allies on joining a “coalition of the willing.”
On Sunday night, Vice President Joseph R. Biden had dinner with several Republican senators in an effort to persuade them to support the president on Syria, a meeting on which Mr. Obama dropped in. The White House did not specify how many senators, or which ones, were at the vice president’s residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory.
A Senate aide told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that Mr. Obama will meet with his own party’s senators Tuesday before his televised speech.
Mr. Obama sent Congress a draft resolution last weekend asking for permission to strike at the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facilities, but key members of the House and Senate have rejected the request as too broad.
Mr. McDonough said Sunday that while there is no question in his mind that the Syrian government of Bashar Assad used chemical weapons, there isn’t “irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence” on the point.
But “this is not a court of law. And intelligence does not work that way,” he said. “The common-sense test says he is responsible for this. He should be held to account.”
Mr. McDonough said Sunday that he is confident Congress will back the president once members see evidence that the Assad regime authorized the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that left almost 1,500 dead in Syria.
“Frankly, members have been in their states and in their districts and have not had a chance to see all that we are ready to brief them on,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation. “Those who have seen it are very compelled.”
Mr. Kerry, speaking in Paris a day earlier in a joint appearance with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, said Mr. Assad needs to be held accountable for his actions.
“It is not hyperbole to say that the safety of the entire world depends on whether our collective conscience and our commitment to international norms that have been in place for nearly a century compels us to react,” Mr. Kerry said. “We are not talking about going to war. … What we are talking about here is a limited military action, one that is aimed squarely at degrading Assad’s capacity to use chemical weapons and deterring him from using them again.”
Mr. Kerry, who met with representatives of the Arab League, said Saudi Arabia supports military action.
“They have supported a strike and they support taking action. They believe it’s very important to do that,” he said.
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