Syria's Assad denies chemical weapons use; US presses case for strike

Syria's Assad denies chemical weapons use; US presses case for strike
A Free Syrian Army fighter stands in a shooting position in Raqqa province, eastern Syria September 8, 2013.

WASHINGTON/LONDON - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied that he was behind a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, as the White House on Sunday pressed ahead with the uphill effort of persuading Congress to approve a military strike to punish Assad.

The Obama administration faces a crucial test vote set for Wednesday in the U.S. Senate and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made the rounds of five Sunday talk shows to argue for a resolution authorizing a limited strike on Syria.

In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not rule out France's suggestion that it go to the U.N. Security Council for an authorization of a possible military strike once U.N. inspectors complete their report on the August 21 attack near Damascus in which more than 1,400 people were killed.

Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, have blocked previous efforts to punish the Syrian government. The United States and France hold that Assad was behind the attack and should be deterred from using chemical weapons again.

Assad denied involvement in the attack and said if the United States has evidence, Washington should produce it, CBS reported on Sunday on its news program "Face the Nation." [ID:nL1N0H404W]

"There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," CBS reported Assad said in an interview conducted in Damascus. The report was a summary of the interview and did not contain any audio or video of Assad.

Assad said he feared an attack might degrade the Syrian military and tip the balance in the 2-1/2-year-old civil war, CBS reported.

The Syrian president also warned that if there was a military strike by the United States, there would be retaliation by those aligned with Syria, CBS said.

In London, Kerry countered Assad, saying "The evidence speaks for itself."

President Barack Obama faces an uphill climb to persuade U.S. lawmakers returning from a summer recess to vote for military action. During the break, their constituents voiced strong objections to the action, worrying that it would drag the country into another costly, and broader, Middle East conflict.

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