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White House steps up campaign to garner support for Syria strike

With the US Congress due to hold first votes Wednesday on a limited military strike on Syria, President Barack Obama is stepping up efforts to convince those opposed to the action. He is facing great skepticism.

President Obama is to appear in interviews on six television stations on Monday as he tries to convince the public and lawmakers of the need for a US-led military strike against the Syrian regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people.

On Tuesday, he will go on prime-time television to make his case to the American people in an address to the nation. Ahead of this speech, he is to meet with Senate Democrats to seek support for the strike, according to Senate Democratic aides.

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US takes Syria case to skeptical public

Opinion polls show that most Americans oppose a strike. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 56 percent of Americans believed the United States should not intervene in Syria, and only 19 percent backed action.

The United States, citing intelligence reports, alleges that the Assad regime used the lethal nerve agent sarin in an August 21 attack outside the capital, Damascus, killing 1,429 people.

In an interview with CBS television to be broadcast on Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied all charges of using chemical weapons, suggesting that rebels were responsible for the August attack.

The Syrian president also warned that if there was a military strike by the United States, there would be retaliation by those aligned with Syria, CBS said.

Hard slog for Obama

Congress is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on a resolution that would authorize the "limited and specified use" of US armed forces against Syria fro no more than 90 days. The measure bars ground troops from combat.

A final vote is expected at the end of the week.

A survey by The Associated Press suggests that Obama may have a hard time convincing lawmakers of the necessity for military action in Syria. It shows that House members are either opposed to, or are tendentially against, a military strike by a 6-1 margin.

Looking for allies

US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, is in London on the last leg of a tour to drum up backing for US-led military action in Syria. He has met with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

At a news conference with Hague, Kerry stressed that the relationship between Britain and the US was as strong as ever, despite a vote against military intervention two weeks ago by the British parliament.

Hague stressed that the US has Britain's full support on Syria despite the parliamentary vote.

He added that Britain would be "working closely with our closest ally" on Syria.

Kerry's London visit comes after meetings in Paris with the Arab League, which did not endorse a strike by the West in Syria. Instead, it urged the need for a political solution to the country's 29-month-old conflict.

EU foreign ministers, who also met with Kerry in Lithuania on Saturday, have called for a "clear and strong response" to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, but said they wanted to wait for a report by UN inspectors who visited the attack site.

The inspectors' report is likely to be handed in at roughly the same time as the Congress vote. According to rhe UN, the inspectors will only determine whether gas was used, and not who was reponsible for it.

tj/mkg (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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