BEIRUT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Syria hailed a “historic American retreat” on Sunday, mockingly accusing President Barack Obama of hesitation and confusion after he delayed a military response to last month's chemical weapons attack near Damascus until after a congressional vote.
Obama's announcement on Saturday that he would seek congressional authorization for punitive military action against Syria is likely to delay any strike for at least nine days.
Opinion polls have shown strong opposition to a punitive strike among Americans weary of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His administration launched a political offensive on Sunday to win over a skeptical Congress, but faced tough questions from lawmakers in both parties.
The United Nations said Obama's announcement could be seen as part of an effort to forge a global consensus on responding to the use of chemical arms anywhere.
“The use of chemical weapons will not be accepted under any circumstances,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “There should be no impunity and any perpetrators of such a horrific crime against humanity must be held accountable.”
The final resolution of a meeting of Arab League meeting foreign ministers meeting in Cairo urged the United Nations and international community to “take the deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for”.
The ministers also said those responsible for the attack should face trial, as other “war criminals” have.
The Syrian government says the attack was staged by the rebels. With Obama drawing back from the brink, President Bashar al-Assad reacted defiantly to the threat of Western retaliation, saying Syria was capable of confronting any external strike.
He left his most withering comments to his official media and a junior minister.
“Obama announced yesterday, directly or through implication, the beginning of the historic American retreat,” Syria's official al-Thawra newspaper said in a front-page editorial.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad accused Obama of indecision. “It is clear there was a sense of hesitation and disappointment in what was said by President Barack Obama yesterday. And it is also clear there was a sense of confusion as well,” he told reporters in Damascus.
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