The president said Saturday he will ask Congress to vote on whether to strike Syria for killing civilians with chemical weapons. Speaking at the White House, Obama said he had met with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders and they had agreed to schedule votes on whether to carry out military actions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in response to what Obama called "the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century."
Obama conferred with French President Francois Hollande by phone Saturday.
"The two leaders agreed that the international community must deliver a resolute message to the Assad regime -- and others who would consider using chemical weapons -- that these crimes are unacceptable and those who violate this international norm will be held accountable by the world," the White House said in a statement. "President Obama thanked President Hollande for France's principled commitment to upholding the international norm against the use of chemical weapons and enforcing the consequences that give this norm meaning."
Hollande said he supports "firm" punitive action and that France would act as it determines is necessary regardless of the British Parliament's vote, the BBC reported.
The network said Hollande spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday and they agreed a reaction was required, but the nature the response would take was unclear.
Obama also noted he made the decision to take the matter to Congress rather than act unilaterally despite seeing the British Parliament vote down a similar proposal for action by Prime Minister David Cameron
But the president said he had no qualms about acting without the blessing of the U.N. Security Council, which he said "so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable."
Russia and China have effectively blocked Security Council action on Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin challenged the United States Saturday to present evidence Syria was responsible for the chemical weapons attack, the BBC reported.
He said it would be "utter nonsense" for Syria to conduct such an attack because it had superior forces. A chemical weapons attack would "give a trump card" to those calling for international intervention, Putin said.
Putin said the United States had failed to prove Syrian forces had used chemical weapons.
Russia has said any unilateral military action not approved by the U.N. Security Council would be a violation of international law.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia's veto of any action by the Security Council had prevented the United Nations from acting "as it should," The New York Times reported.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Saturday with his top disarmament official, Angela Kane, who had just returned from Damascus, along with the U.N. inspection team members.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Kane "reported that the mission was able to conduct a wide range of fact-finding activities" related to the alleged Syrian military use of chemical weapons.
The inspection team traveled from Syria to The Hague, Netherlands, to prepare their samples and other evidence for shipment to laboratories in Europe for testing, Nesirky said.
Ban, he said, "looks forward to receiving the findings as soon as possible" so they can be promptly presented to U.N. members.
In a statement issued jointly with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and other top House Republicans, Boehner, R-Ohio, said he expects the House to take up the matter the week of Sept. 9.
"We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised," the statement said. "This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after Obama's announcement Saturday, "The president's role as commander in chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress."
"Our military has positioned assets in the region," Obama said Saturday. "The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I'm prepared to give that order."
Demonstrators protested outside the White House as Obama spoke Saturday.
Administration officials briefed members of Congress Saturday as the president tried to build support for military action against Syria. Delivering a message that U.S. credibility was at stake, cabinet secretaries and other officials met with both parties in the Senate about actions the White House is considering, The New York Times reported.
Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, were at the White House Saturday -- with Biden standing next Obama as he announced his plans to take the matter before Congress.
The 20-member U.N. team left its hotel in Damascus early Saturday and crossed into Lebanon before heading to Europe, the Los Angeles Times reported. They carried with them blood and urine samples from victims of a chemical weapons attack. The samples were to be delivered to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which would have the samples tested at two labs in Europe. Results will be known in several days.
Inspectors had been in the capital city's suburbs for the past four days to try to determine whether more than 1,400 men, women and children had died from exposure to poisonous gas, which the United States and others countries charge was used by Syrian forces against civilians.
Obama said Friday he is considering "limited, narrow" military options that do not include boots on the ground, but would not decide on a course of action until after the U.N. team left Syria.
Obama acknowledged Americans had a "certain weariness" of another Middle Eastern conflict after years of involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"A lot of people think something should be done, but nobody wants to do it," the president said. Failure by the United States to take action would send the wrong message, he said.
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