Obama heads to Sweden, Russia to sell Syria strikes


US President Barack Obama left for Europe, seeking tacit support for a plan to strike Syria without a UN mandate and a looming confrontation with Vladimir Putin.

Obama headed for Sweden and the G20 summit in Russia Tuesday after making important political headway at home when top Republican leaders firmly backed his plan to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a chemical weapons attack.

The decision by House Speaker John Boehner and his right hand man Eric Cantor, represented a rare gesture of unity in deeply divided Washington, and left Obama aides increasingly hopeful of securing a vote for action in Congress next week.

In turn, the closing of the political ranks — despite public opinion running hard against a new US intervention in the Middle East — appeared to increase the chances of eventual military action and to shore up Obama.

The US president decided to seek congressional approval in a surprise development on Saturday. He says he is ready to launch “limited” action despite Russia’s decision to prevent the UN Security Council framing a mandate for action.

Obama will arrive in Stockholm early Wednesday in a somewhat delicate position — as a Nobel peace laureate on a mission to sell a military intervention in the home city of the Nobel Foundation, and will face pressure to explain his motives over Syria.

He may reprise some of the arguments he made when he picked up his Nobel prize in Oslo in 2009, when he effectively made a case for when a US president may choose to wage war — to protect American security, for humanitarian reasons, or to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Obama does not currently have any one-on-one meetings scheduled with Putin but the two leaders will run into each other at the inevitable photocalls of the G20.

A White House official said Wednesday Obama will hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of France and China on the sidelines of the meeting.

“While in Russia for the G20, the president will hold bilateral meetings with President Xi of China and President Hollande of France,” the official said.