U.N. investigates Syria, pleads for more time

julie pace   |   associated press

A U.S. missile strike against Syria was still under consideration Aug. 28 as U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in Damascus requested more time to conclude their investigation.

The U.N. team took biological samples from several victims of last week’s purported poison gas attack east of Damascus, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said no action should be taken against Syria until the inspectors finish their investigation.

“Let them conclude … their work for four days and then we will have to analyze scientifically” their findings and send a report to the U.N. Security Council, he said from the Hague. The U.N. said the analysis would be done “as quickly as possible.”

The Obama administration, meanwhile, insisted the Syrian government must be punished, and has been rounding up support from international partners for what the administration states would be an attack with clearly defined objectives: to damage the Syrian government’s military and weapons to make it difficult to wage chemical attacks, and to make Syrian leader Bashar Assad think twice about using such weapons in the future.

The manner and timing of any Syrian response are among the so-called “next day” questions, including possible retaliation against Israel. “If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will become a target, and a full-scale war against Syria will essentially justify an attack against Israel,” a senior Syrian army official told the Iranian news agency Fars on Aug. 27.

In Congress, which is in summer recess, members from both parties have expressed reservations about a rush toward launching a military action without congressional approval. On Aug. 28, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, cautioned that an attack might be ineffective and draw the United States into the Syrian civil war.

“Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of ‘doing something’ will not secure our interests in Syria,” Smith said in a statement.

Administration officials have said Assad’s actions pose a direct threat to U.S. national security, providing Obama with a potential legal justification for launching a strike without authorization from the United Nations or Congress.

The administration also is concerned that if Assad is not punished, dictatorial leaders of other nations in possession of chemical weapons, like North Korea, might see the failure to act as a sign that they, too, could get away with using the weapons.

Assad has denied using chemical weapons, calling the allegations “preposterous.”

AP reporters in Brunei, Damascus and Washington contributed to this report.