Syria Strike Threat Delayed as UN Inspectors Weigh Chemical Weapons Evidence

PHOTO: Syrian refugees pass through the Turkish Cilvegozu gate border, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013.
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The sword of Damocles will dangle over Damascus a while longer, after President Obama announced today that he would seek Congressional approval before launching a military strike on Syria. Hours before, U.N. inspectors left Syria but no timeline was given for when they might release results of their investigation into allegations that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own people.

The U.S. and its allies have been debating military action against Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons that killed nearly 1,500 people, by the U.S.'s count, in a Damascus suburb last week.

"After careful deliberation, I've decided that the Unites States should take military action against Syrian regime targets," Obama said in the Rose Garden.

Syria Prepares for Possible Airstrikes: See the Photos

The president said he hopes Congress will debate and vote on a U.S. strike when they return from their summer recess on Sept. 9. He did not put a timetable on the possible attack, adding that military action will be "effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now."

"This would not be an open-ended intervention, we'd not put boots on the ground," he said. "Instead our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior and degrade their capacity to carry it out."

A U.N. team of chemical weapons inspectors sent to investigate the sites of last week's attack left Syria this morning, which had fueled speculation that a possible U.S. strike on Syria could have come as early as Saturday night.

The Map of Alleged Chemical Attacks in Syria

But today, Obama made clear that he will wait for congressional approval before taking any action.

The U.N. team touched down in The Hague today and the U.N.'s top disarmament official, Angela Kane briefed U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon on the investigation.

In a briefing at the U.N.'s New York headquarters, a spokesman for the Secretary-General would not give a timeline for the results, but said Ban had requested the lab testing be expedited. The spokesman said the U.N. team will spend the weekend collating samples and other evidence before testing it in European laboratories.

At this time, the U.N. team plans to stick with its original mandate and will not determine accountability for the attacks, the spokesman added that such a mandate would need to be approved by the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. Ready to Act Alone

More than a week after the alleged chemical attack, the U.S. is clearly ready to move ahead without the approval of the UNSC and without broad international support.

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry made an impassioned case for punishing Syria, stating that a chemical attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad killed 1,429 people, including 426 children.

Read the Obama Administration's Unclassified Intelligence Report on Syria

"Instead of being tucked safely in their beds," there were "rows and rows" of dead children, Kerry said, speaking at press conference in Washington.

"If we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will," Kerry said.

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