Obama will seek congressional approval before any military action against Syria

President Barack Obama said Saturday
he will seek authorization from
Congress before launching any military
action against the Syrian regime for
allegedly using chemical weapons in a
mass killing that claimed the lives of
1,429 people.
The president came to the unexpected
decision during a walk Friday evening
with his chief of staff Denis
McDonough, just hours after Secretary
of State John Kerry made a forceful
case for the U.S. to attack Syria,
sources told NBC News. After Obama
returned from the stroll around the
South Lawn, he called senior aides,
leading to meetings Friday night and
Saturday morning, the sources said.
Obama stressed on Saturday that
American warships in the
Mediterranean Sea still stood poised to
strike regime targets at any time,
despite the move that would place a
hold on any imminent military action.
"Over the last several days, we have
heard from members of Congress who
want their voices to be heard," Obama
said. "I absolutely agree."
Just minutes after Obama's statement,
the Syrian army recommenced its
shelling of rebel-held Damascus
suburbs, which had halted for several
hours.
In his statement, Obama condemned
Assad's regime, describing the alleged
chemical attack as "an assault on
human dignity" that "presents a
serious danger to our national
security." He had previously
characterized the use of chemical
weapons as a "red line" Assad should
not be permitted to cross.
Obama pledged that any military
involvement would be of "limited
duration and scope."
"This would not be an open-ended
intervention," he said. "We would not
put boots on the ground."
Before revealing he would seek
approval from Congress, the President
made clear that "we are prepared to
strike whenever we choose."
"Our capacity to execute this mission
is not time-sensitive," Obama said. "It
will be effective tomorrow or next
week or one month from now, and I
am prepared to give that order."
And yet many rebel groups aligned
with the opposition to Assad expressed
dismay with the apparent
postponement of military intervention.
One rebel spokesman told NBC News:
“President Obama is sending
contradictory messages. He promised
to help, and now promises delays.”
“If Congress votes against a military
action,” the spokesman said, “it will
mean the American people don’t want
to help the Syrian people.”
Secretary of State John Kerry on
Saturday afternoon spoke with Syrian
Opposition Coalition President Ahmed
Assi al-Jarba to “underscore President
Obama’s commitment to holding the
Assad regime accountable,” according
to a statement from a senior State
Department official.
WATCH: Richard Engel: For Syrians,
'this is absolutely a time-sensitive
issue'
Key Republican leaders, including
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-
Va.), issued a joint statement Saturday
afternoon, applauding the President’s
decision to take his case for
intervention to their official chambers.
“Under the Constitution, the
responsibility to declare war lies with
Congress,” they said. “We are glad the
president is seeking authorization for
any military action in Syria in response
to serious, substantive questions being
raised.”
Congress is slated to return from its
five-week summer recess on Sept. 9.
The window for a potential U.S. attack
on Syria opened as United Nations
inspectors departed the anxious
country ahead of schedule Saturday,
less than a day after Kerry delivered a
forceful speech arguing America had a
moral obligation to punish Assad's
regime.
The possibility of U.S. strikes in the
hours or days ahead cast a shadow
over Damascus. As the army continued
its shelling of rebel enclaves
throughout the region — suspending
only for a few hours before Obama's
statement — citizens fretted about the
skyrocketing price — or sudden
absence — of food, gasoline, and
medical supplies. The city was
checkered by roadblocks, and traffic
was slowed to a crawl.
Activists in the Syrian capital told NBC
News that people in some Damascus
neighborhoods waited seven hours on
bread lines, and scooped up other
essential items like rice, tea, and sugar
in preparation for a strike. Some
people who live in close proximity to
possible targets like military
installations and barracks have moved,
the activists said.