WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has postponed threatened missile strikes against Syria in a risky gamble that he can win more support for his plan to punish Bashar al-Assad's regime.
To general surprise, the US leader broke with decades of precedent to announce that he would seek approval from Congress for action against Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.
This effectively pushed military action back until at least September 9, when US lawmakers return from their summer recess.
Obama insisted that he reserves the right to strike regardless of Congress's decision, and a White House official said the pause would also allow him time to build international support.
The Arab League meets in Cairo on Sunday and is expected to condemn Assad, and Obama travels to Russia next week for a G20 Summit that will now be overshadowed by the crisis.
But the toughest battle, and perhaps the most dangerous for Obama's credibility, may yet be with his own former colleagues in Congress, where support for strikes is far from assured.
Indeed, observers warned that he faces the same fate as Prime Minister David Cameron, who on Thursday lost his own vote on authorizing military action in the British parliament.
"The chairman of the joint chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose," Obama warned during an address in the White House Rose Garden.
"Our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now."
At least five US warships armed with scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles have converged on the eastern Mediterranean ready to launch precision strikes on Syrian regime targets.