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Obama works to build support overseas for strike on Syrian regime

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Courtesy NBC News

By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

Carrying limited backing from Republicans at home, President Barack Obama traveled to Europe on Wednesday and declared that punishing Syria for using chemical weapons was a matter of upholding the credibility of the world.

The president landed in Stockholm and, at a press conference with the Swedish prime minister, outlined the administration's case for action.

"I didn't set a red line — the world set a red line," Obama said, responding to a question about his saying last year that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line" that would change his thinking.

"The international community's credibility is on the line, and America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important," he added.

"And when those videos first broke and you saw images of over 400 children subjected to gas, everybody expressed outrage. How can this happen in this modern world? Well, it happened because a government chose to deploy these deadly weapons on civilian populations."

Obama appeared at risk of losing the support of a critical Republican ally, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He told NBC News that he would not back a draft of a Senate resolution authorizing force against Syria because it does not address "changing the momentum on the battlefield" and arming rebels who have fought the Syrian government for more than two years.

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed Tuesday on the draft and aimed to vote on it by the end of the day Wednesday. Senators spent more than three hours in closed session as Secretary of State John Kerry and committee leaders tried to build enough support to make sure the resolution can pass the committee.

Asked in Sweden whether he would strike Syria even if Congress votes down a resolution authorizing military force, Obama said: "I believe that Congress will approve it."

He added: "I do not believe that I was required to take this to Congress, but I did not take this to Congress just because it's an empty exercise. I think it's important to have Congress' support on it."

The president said he was mindful that memories of the Iraq war were fresh, particularly in Europe.

"Keep in mind I'm somebody who opposed the war in Iraq, and am not interested in repeating mistakes of us basing decisions on faulty intelligence," he said. "But having done a thoroughgoing evaluation of the information that is currently available, I can say with high confidence that chemical weapons were used."

On Tuesday, some Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, lent their support to a limited attack on the Syrian government for using poison gas against rebels outside the Syrian capital Aug. 21.

The resolution would limit American involvement to two months, with a possible one-month extension, and would bar the use of ground forces. The administration has said punishing Syria would not mean putting "boots on the ground."

"The president is not asking you to go to war," Kerry told Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. and a skeptic of a Syria strike, during a hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Kerry and other administration officials appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pressing the administration's case and using much the same language as they had used before the Senate committee.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, expressed deep reservations and asked whether Obama would have "bothered to come to Congress" if the British Parliament had passed its own resolution supporting military force. Parliament rejected it instead.

Read on NBC News

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