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White House in Full Press for Congressional Approval of Syria Strike

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken answers questions during the daily news briefing at the White House, Sept., 9, 2013.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken answers questions during the daily news briefing at the White House, Sept., 9, 2013.
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— In a television address set for Tuesday, President Barack Obama will make his case directly to the American people to support military action against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons there.  There is intense activity under way in Washington as President Obama prepares to appeal directly to the public.

Despite intense personal lobbying with lawmakers of both parties, and his public statements so far, Mr. Obama still faces an uphill battle tp convince Americans and their representatives that a military response is required.

Polls show national sentiment running strong against a military strike, although there is public support for any action that would have United Nations approval.

On the eve of Tuesday's address, the administration continued an all-out effort, with White House officials providing a likely preview of Mr. Obama's speech.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice listed negative outcomes from a failure to respond to the August 21 chemical attack in Damascus, including damage to U.S. and global security, emboldening Iran and North Korea, and undermining U.S credibility.

"If we begin to erode the moral outrage of gassing children in their bed, we open ourselves up to even more fearsome consequences.  Moreover, failing to respond to this brazen attack could indicate that the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary to keep our nation secure," said Rice.

In remarks at the White House after a meeting with President Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the debate over use of force is good for democracy.

She also referred to a Russian proposal, which was welcomed by Syria's foreign minister, for the government of President Bashar al-Assad to turn over all of its chemical weapons to international control.

"As was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step.  But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction, and Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely, or be held to account," said Clinton.

Clinton and the White House are making clear that they view the Russian proposal as having been made possible only by the credible threat of U.S. military action in Syria.

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told reporters that any "standing orders" to use chemical weapons would have been issued by President Assad.  He reacted this way to the Russian proposal.

"We are going to take a hard look at this, we will talk to the Russians about it, but it is very important to note that it is clear that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the president is exerting, so it is even more important that we don't take the pressure off and that Congress give the president the authority he has requested," said Blinken.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded this way when asked if the United States would delay any action while the Russian proposal is being discussed.

"We have just had a proposal articulated by the Russians with a response of sorts by the Syrian foreign minister, as reported anyway, and we will engage in conversations about that, but we are, in terms of military action, we are obviously engaged with Congress at this point, so while we have these discussions with the Russians and others we will continue in the effort with Congress," said Carney.

President Obama gave interviews to six major U.S. television networks Monday as he continued his defense of plans for what he has said would be a limited military strike aiming to degrade Assad regime capabilities to launch new chemical attacks.

Obama is scheduled to go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with lawmakers in another direct appeal for congressional authorization, hours before he delivers his nationally televised address on Syria.  The U.S. Senate is due to hold an initial vote on Wednesday.

Obama faced more criticism Monday from a key Senate Republican, John McCain, who has advocated for more forceful military action in Syria.

Responding to remarks in London by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said any military action would be "unbelievably small," McCain said what the administration is proposing would be "unbelievably unhelpful."

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