President Barack Obama urged Americans on Saturday to back him in launching an attack on Syria, as diplomatic pressure grew on the United States to wait for a UN report expected in a week's time before beginning military action.
Fresh from a European trip in which he failed to forge a consensus among global leaders, Obama plunged into a campaign on radio and television to try to convince a skeptical US public and Congress of the need for a military strike on Syria.
In Europe, pressure increased for delay. European Union foreign ministers meeting in Lithuania on Saturday blamed the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria on President Bashar al-Assad's government. But they did not endorse military action and made clear the bloc wanted the United Nations to have a role in agreeing on an international response.
Pope Francis, who two days ago branded a military solution in Syria “a futile pursuit,” led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world.
Obama, clearly still the reluctant warrior who rose to political prominence on his opposition to the Iraq war, emphasized he favoured limited strikes on Syria to deter future chemical weapons attacks - not another costly and protracted conflict.
“This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan,” Obama declared in his weekly radio address, previewing arguments he will make in a nationally televised address on Tuesday.
“I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. That's why we're not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else's war,” Obama said.
Obama will give interviews on Monday to the three network news anchors, as well as PBS, CNN and Fox News, more evidence of a “full-court press” strategy before pivotal congressional votes on military strikes in Syria.
The interviews will air during each network's Monday evening news broadcast, the White House said.
Lawmakers returning to Washington after a summer break say many of their constituents have told them they do not think the United States should respond militarily to the August chemical weapons attack that Washington blames on Assad's government.
The Obama administration says over 1,400 people were killed by the poison gas, hundreds of them children. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said 56% of Americans believed the United States should not intervene in Syria; 19% backed action.
Obama is seeking congressional approval for a strike, but early vote-count estimates do not look encouraging for the president, with scores of lawmakers still undecided. The Senate is expected to take action next week. The House of Representatives will vote later, but the time is not set.
As the White House cranked up its campaign, CNN showed excerpts on Saturday from the gruesome aftermath of the attack taken from a DVD shown to lawmakers and compiled from publicly available videos on YouTube and other internet sites.
Pressure rises for delay in Europe
Many EU governments have expressed reservations about using military force to punish Assad, now fighting a 2-1/2-year battle against rebels in which more than 100,000 people have died.
In a carefully worded message, the foreign ministers of 28 EU governments stopped short of endorsing possible US and French military action against Syria ahead of the UN report.
French President Francois Hollande said the report could be made public at the end of next week and he suggested that France might then wish to take the matter to the UN Security Council, a step that could further delay any action.