(CNN) – U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday that the United States “should take military action against Syrian targets” over its alleged use of chemical weapons, but added that he will seek congressional authorization for the move.
In a televised address from the White House Rose Garden, the president appealed for congressional leaders to consider their responsibilities and values in debating U.S. military action over Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use. “Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are united as one nation,” he said.
Obama said he had spoken with top congressional leaders, and that they had agreed to schedule a debate when Congress returns to Washington on September 9.
Obama’s remarks came shortly after U.N. inspectors left Syria carrying evidence that will determine whether chemical weapons were used in an attack last week in a Damascus suburb.
“The aim of the game here, the mandate, is very clear — and that is to ascertain whether chemical weapons were used — and not by whom,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Saturday.
The U.N. team arrived in the Netherlands earlier in the day carrying information about the August 21 attack, which British and U.S. intelligence reports say included chemical weapons.
“It needs time to be able to analyze the information and the samples,” Nesirky said.
He noted that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said there is no alternative to a political solution to the crisis in Syria. “A military solution is not an option,” he said.
But Obama proposed a limited military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “This attack is an assault on human dignity,” the president said, referring to the toxic gas assault. “It also presents a serious danger to our national security; it risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.”
He worried aloud that a failure to respond with force “could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm. In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.”
Any military attack would be neither open-ended nor include U.S. ground forces, he said.
Though he said he believes he has the authority to carry out military action without specific congressional authorization, he was seeking it because “I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course of action and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate because our interests are too big for business as usual.”