Barack Obama has unexpectedly stepped back from an imminent missile attack on Syria and is instead asking the US Congress to support a strike punishing Bashar Assad's regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons.
The White House has sent congress a draft of a resolution authorising President Obama to use military force against Syria. It lays out the administration's claim that Assad's regime killed more than 1,000 people in an August 21 chemical weapons attack.
It says the objective of a US military response would be to "deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade" the regime's ability to use chemical weapons and authorises Mr Obama to use the military as he determines "necessary and appropriate" to serve that goal. The draft does not lay out a timeline for action, but does say only a political settlement can resolve the Syrian crisis.
With navy ships on standby in the Mediterranean ready to launch their cruise missiles, Mr Obama explained his decision to involve congress, saying he believed that as commander in chief, he had "the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorisation". But he added: "I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective." His remarks were televised live in the United States as well as on Syrian state television with translation.
Congress will return from its summer break on September 9, and in anticipation of the coming debate, Mr Obama challenged politicians to consider "what message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price".
The President's strategy carries enormous risks to his and America's credibility, which the administration has argued forcefully is on the line in Syria. Mr Obama long ago said the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that Assad would not be allowed to cross with impunity. Nor would the White House say what options would still be open to the President if he failed to win the backing of the House of Representatives and Senate for the military measures.
Only this week, British prime minister David Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat when the House of Commons refused to support his call for military action against Syria.
Assad's government blames rebels for the August 21 attack, and has threatened retaliation if it is attacked.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying he was appealing to a Nobel Peace laureate rather than to a president, urged Mr Obama to reconsider. And a group that monitors casualties in the long Syrian civil war challenged the United States to substantiate its claim that 1,429 died in a chemical weapons attack, including more than 400 children.
By accident or design, the new timetable gives time for United Nations inspectors to receive lab results from the samples they took during four days in Damascus, and to compile a final report. After leaving Syria overnight, the inspection team arrived in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, a few hours before Mr Obama spoke. The group's leader is expected to brief UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.