- (Photo: Reuters/Mike Theiler)
Citing new evidence that "confirms" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime used chemical weapons to kill its own citizens, the White House on Sunday began making desperate efforts to gather congressional support for President Obama's plan to attack Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who appeared on five talk shows on Sunday, said blood and hair samples collected from the Damascus site of the alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack provide further evidence against the Syrian regime.
Tests found signatures of the lethal sarin gas in the samples collected separately from a United Nations investigation, Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Union" show. The alleged attack killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, according to the White House.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spent Sunday making calls to senators and House members, urging them to support the planned military intervention in Syria, Fox News reported.
Obama also called Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz..) inviting him to the White House on Monday, the day the president is scheduled to hold another conference call with House members.
"In all calls and briefings, we will be making the same fundamental case: the failure to take action against Assad unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use, and it risks emboldening Assad and his key allies – Hezbollah and Iran – who will see that there are no consequences for such a flagrant violation of an international norm," an anonymous White House official was quoted as saying.
Despite its furious efforts, it remains uncertain whether the White House will be able to garner enough support to attack Syria. A debate on the issue is expected when Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 9.
"I would say if the vote were today, it would probably be a no vote," New York Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was quoted as saying.
Even some Democrats are not sure if they should vote in favor of an armed intervention. "I certainly enter this debate as a skeptic, but I'm going to allow the administration to make its case this week," Sen. Christopher Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told NBC. The committee plans to meet on Tuesday.
However, Kerry on Sunday made a strong pitch for attacking Syria.
"If you don't do it, you send a message of impunity," Kerry told CNN. Nations like Iran, North Korea, and Hezbollah "will look at the United States and say 'Nothing means anything' - that's what's at stake here," he warned.
Speaking to Fox News, Kerry said it was difficult for him to imagine Congress would betray Israel and other U.S. allies. "I can't contemplate that Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility," he said. "I don't believe Congress will do that."
Obama said Saturday he has decided to punish Syria but will "seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress."
"While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective," Obama said in a televised address. "We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual."
The United Nations has urged the international community to wait until its probe confirms the use of chemical weapons. "The U.N. mission is uniquely capable of establishing in an impartial and credible manner the facts of any use of chemical weapons," Martin Nesirky, spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said at a news conference.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron pushed for a U.N. resolution to approve military action, but the British parliament voted against it. However, French President François Hollande has announced his country will offer strong backing for international military action against Syria, and the Arab League and Turkey have also offered their support to the U.S.
The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the attack, blaming it on rebels. A civil war has been waging in Syria for the past two years between the supporters of Assad's regime and rebel forces seeking to overthrow his government, and more than 100,000 people have been killed.
Some Christian leaders have warned against a military action on Syria, fearing more deaths and uncertainties for the Syrian people.
Bishop Nicholas Ozone, who serves the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, whose patriarchal headquarters is in Damascus, told RIA Novosti on Friday that world leaders need to "sit down together and, through peaceful conversation, agree on a resolution instead of this endless war."
Since there is no clearly laid out agenda for political process in Syria yet, the outcome of the possible U.S. attack appears to be uncertain, including for the country's Christian minority.