BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria on Sunday gloated over a "historic American retreat," deriding President Barack Obama for his decision to delay what had appeared to be imminent military strikes and dealing a further blow to U.S. credibility among the opposition and its allies, already frustrated at international inaction.
The announcement Saturday by Obama that he would seek congressional approval for any U.S. military intervention in Syria, effectively pushing back any potential strike for at least 10 days, was immediately seized upon by Syrian officials and state media, presenting it as a victory for the regime. The Syrian Opposition Coalition, meanwhile, attempted to build broader regional backing for military strikes and urged Congress to support them.
The decision to delay a U.S. military response to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack that the United States says killed more than 1,400 people comes after what analysts have described as 21/2 years of flailing U.S. policy on Syria.
Speaking to reporters in Damascus on Sunday, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mikdad said the "hesitation" and "confusion" were obvious in Obama's speech Saturday announcing his decision to seek Congress' approval for any military action.
"Whether the Congress lights the red or green light for an aggression, and whether the prospects of war have been enhanced or faded, President Obama has announced yesterday, by prevaricating or hinting, the start of the historic American retreat," crowed the state-run daily newspaper al-Thawra.
President Bashar Assad said U.S. threats would not discourage Syria from its mission of "combating terrorism" in the country, referring to the fight against rebels, according to comments carried on the official Syrian Arab News Agency. The comments play into the fears of rebel fighters who have predicted that Assad loyalists would seek to use the U.S. delay to escalate attacks on opposition strongholds.
In a telephone interview with Syrian state television, Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, said Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron — who last week ruled out military action after failing to get parliamentary approval — had "climbed to the top of the tree" but didn't know how to get down and, so, had deferred the decision to lawmakers.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition said that if the international community fails to respond to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons, it would set a dangerous precedent.
"Dictatorships like Iran and North Korea are watching closely to see how the free world responds to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people," it said.
The United States has struggled to garner regional support for military strikes. At a meeting of the Arab League on Sunday in Cairo, called to discuss the Syrian crisis, the Syrian Opposition Coalition's chief, Ahmad al-Jarba, tried to drum up support for U.S.-led intervention.
The league urged international action against the Syrian government to deter what it called the "ugly crime" of using chemical weapons. It was a major step toward supporting Western military strikes but short of the explicit endorsement that the United States and some Persian Gulf allies had hoped for.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.