US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he had not yet made a decision on intervention in Syria, acknowledging that military engagement in the country would not stop the killing of innocent civilians, but stressing the need to deter the use of chemical weapons.
Obama said in a PBS Newshour interview that the US has already concluded that Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind a chemical weapons attack last week that reportedly killed hundreds of people in the suburbs east of Damascus.
"We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed chemical weapons of that sort. We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences."
Obama's comments came after the US had intimated that it was prepared to take action in Syria without UN approval, but its ally Britain was facing some internal dissent on the issue.
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The US State Department said Wednesday that it was ready to proceed with military action without the UN, after Russia scuttled a draft resolution condemning "the attack by the Assad regime, and authorizing all necessary measures under Chapter seven of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons."
But in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to change tack on Wednesday evening in the face of growing opposition from members of the UK Parliament.
Britain's opposition Labour Party, under Ed Miliband's leadership, threatened late Wednesday to vote against the motion to participate in military intervention in Syria without first exhausting UN procedures.
Facing defeat in the pending Parliament vote on Thursday, Cameron-- after reconvening its members for the crisis meeting-- shelved a military response for now to avoid the standoff.
Obama told PBS that the US was "consulting with our allies. We’re consulting with the international community. And you know, I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable."
The US president acknowledged that a US strike would not end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria, but it would send Assad "a pretty strong signal" that there would be repercussions to using chemical weapons.
Obama said a "tailored, limited" strike, not a protracted engagement like Iraq, could be enough to send a strong message that the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated.
"If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, 'Stop doing this,' this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term," he told PBS.
However, it appeared that any imminent US strike would have to be carried out without the involvement of Britain, amid Cameron's struggles to gain approval from Parliament for military action outside of the UN.
The British prime minister said Wednesday that he would resubmit new language to the UN Security Council, wait until the UN investigation on the ground in Syria completed its work over the weekend, and then call for a second vote from Parliament for authorization of military force.
Reuters contributed to this report.