Obama plans to seek support for Syria strike at G-20 summit
WASHINGTON (AP) - US President Barack Obama this week plans to urge reluctant world leaders to support a US-led military strike against Syria as he attends a global summit in Russia and makes a stop in Sweden.
His three-day overseas trip comes as his administration seeks authorisation from Congress for a strike against Syria.
Top lawmakers signaled support on Tuesday after meeting with Mr Obama, while France said it will wait for Congress' decision before any military action of its own.
Mr Obama's presence at the Group of 20 (G-20) gathering in Russia is bound to bring questions about Syria, recently leaked US surveillance programmes and especially his tense relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"It's been like watching a slow-moving train wreck for nearly two years," Dr Andrew Kuchins, a Russia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said of the Obama-Putin relationship. "Mr Putin and Mr Obama don't like each other at all."
That's not Mr Obama's only headache.
His surprise announcement over the weekend that he would seek congressional authorisation for a military strike against Syria, instead of going ahead with a strike as many expected, may have caused doubts among world leaders about his willingness to follow up on his threats to rogue nations.
His administration argues that the strike is needed in response to what it says was a deadly chemical weapons attack last month.
Before his White House meeting on Tuesday with top lawmakers, Mr Obama said he is confident he will be able to work with Congress to pass a resolution authorising the strike on Syria. He said congressional authorisation must send a clear message to Mr Assad and hamper his ability to use chemical weapons.
After the meeting, the top Republican in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, said he would support Mr Obama's call for action against Syria and his party colleagues should too.
Votes in the House and the Senate are expected next week, just after Mr Obama ends his overseas trip. He leaves for Sweden later on Tuesday.
Syria isn't officially on the agenda at the economy-focused G-20 summit. But world leaders are expected to ask Mr Obama whether he plans to proceed with a military strike if Congress doesn't support it. It's a question that Mr Obama's aides have refused to answer.
Mr Obama spoke about Syria by telephone on Monday night with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the White House said on Tuesday. A White House statement said Mr Obama and Mr Abe pledged to consult on a possible international response.
Mr Obama is to arrive in Stockholm on Wednesday morning after an overnight flight from Washington.
The White House hastily added the Sweden visit to his schedule after he cancelled plans to meet one-on-one with Mr Putin in Moscow ahead of the G-20. That came in response to the Kremlin granting temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying Mr Obama's requests to send the former NSA systems analyst back to the US to face espionage charges.
Snowden's leaks to American and foreign news organisations about secret government spying programmes have sparked outrage overseas, particularly in Europe.
Mr Obama is likely to face questions about the scope of the programmes while overseas.
Tensions are also high over US concerns on human rights and a new Russian law that targets "homosexual propaganda." Russian gay rights activists say they've been invited to meet with Mr Obama while he is in St. Petersburg this week.
Even before the Snowden incident, relations between the US and Russia were already troubled. Mr Putin has appeared to enjoy blocking US and Western European efforts to weaken Mr Assad throughout Syria's 2-year civil war. Russia remains one of Syria's strongest military and economic backers.
Last week Mr Putin asked Mr Obama to reconsider a military strike, saying he was appealing to Mr Obama not as a world leader, but as a Nobel Peace laureate.
Administration officials insist the US and Russia can still work productively together during the G-20.
The White House has ruled out a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the summit.
Mr Obama will hold meetings at the summit with French President Francois Hollande and separately with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Britain's Parliament last week voted against endorsing military action in Syria, all but guaranteeing Britain won't play a direct role in any US-led effort.
Mr Hollande has become an increasingly important ally in the deliberations about military action in Syria. France has indicated a willingness to join the US in a strike, though Mr Hollande said on Tuesday that he's waiting for a decision from the US Congress and insisted France won't strike alone.