Credibility of the world and Congress on the line over Syria, Barack Obama says

US president urges support for punitive strikes as Damascus vows to retaliate even if war erupts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 4:45am

US President Barack Obama yesterday urged world support for punitive strikes against Syria for its use of chemical weapons, while Damascus vowed retaliation and resistance even if a third world war erupts.

Obama said in Stockholm that the world had set "a red line" for Syria and it could not remain silent in the face of the regime's use of chemical weapons.

"My credibility is not on the line," Obama said after arriving in Sweden for a two-day visit. "The international community's credibility is on the line and America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important."

Syria remained defiant yesterday with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad saying his government was ready to retaliate in the event of a military strike.

"The Syrian government will not change position even if there is world war three. No Syrian can sacrifice the independence of his country," Muqdad said. "Syria has taken every measure to retaliate against … an aggression," he added, refusing to elaborate.

But the regime was stung by its most senior defection yet, with former defence minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect, in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition said.

With Obama in Europe, his national security aides were at the Capitol to argue for Congress' authority for limited strikes.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee could vote on authorising the use of force as early as today, the first in a series of votes as the president's request makes its way through Senate and House committees before coming before the two chambers for a final vote.

But Obama faces a tough time convincing the American public with a Washington Post/ABC poll finding almost 60 per cent of respondents opposed to missile strikes.