As U.S. President Barack Obama inches closer to securing legislative approval for missile strikes against Syria, international leaders are questioning whether the American head of state has the legal authority to authorize such attacks even with the backing of Congress.
Obama is currently awaiting a key vote from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, prospectively set for Wednesday, that would allow military action against the forces of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.
On Tuesday, the committee penned a bipartisan draft resolution that would provide the Oval Office with a 90-day window to strike Syria with the caveat that no troops land on Syrian soil during the operation.
According to a draft of the resolution, the President would be allowed to use military force “he determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and tailored manner against legitimate military targets in Syria” as punishment for the Assad government’s alleged use of chemical agents against its own citizens in the suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21, and to deter the regime from using similar weapons in the future.
During an interview with the Associated Press in Moscow on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. against unleashing a unilateral strike.
“According to the current international law, only the United Nations Security Council can sanction the use of force against a sovereign state,” he said. “Any other approaches, means, to justify the use of force against an independent and sovereign state, [are] inadmissible,” said Putin, according to a Reuters report.
However, Putin conceded that Russia would not rule out backing a U.N. resolution if solid evidence confirmed that Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons against its citizens.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also challenged the assertion that the U.S. government has the authority to unilaterally intervene in Syria.
“The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations charter and/or when the Security Council approves of such action,” said Ban, according to Reuters. “That is a firm principle of the United Nations.”
Over the weekend, Obama stated that he was prepared to carry out possible strikes against the Assad regime without the Security Council’s approval. Such approval would necessitate votes from council members China and Russia, both of whom have vocally opposed a strike.
In Paris, both the Senate and the National Assembly will hold debates on Wednesday over the Syrian crisis; however, no voting has been scheduled. France’s President François Hollande has been among the staunchest supporters of military retaliation against Assad’s government, but the leader has said his forces will not act alone.
Tensions meanwhile ran high in the Middle East on Tuesday as American and Israeli forces conducted a missile defense test over the Mediterranean that resulted in the issuance of a military alert from Moscow. According to an article published in the U.K.-based Independent newspaper, an Israeli official confirmed that with American support “it had fired an unarmed ‘decoy missile’ over the sea to test its Arrow 3 missile defence system.”
On Tuesday, Assad’s staunchest ally Iran continued to sling warnings at the West and Israel. In a report published by Iran’s Fars News Agency on Tuesday, Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei warned against military intervention saying that “starting this fire will be like a spark in a large store of gunpowder, with unclear and unspecified outcomes and consequences,” while a leading member of the country’s parliament said a strike against Syria would effectively undermine Israeli security.
“The first loser of this crisis will be the Zionist regime,” said the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi. “We hope that as the U.S. President has avoided a hasty move on Syria, the U.S. Congress will also act logically in this regard.”
President Obama is set to arrive in Sweden today, where officials earlier this week pledged to approve all asylum applications from Syrian refugees. Later in the week, Obama will head to Russia for a G-20 meeting, where he is scheduled to hold formal meetings with French and Chinese envoys.