President Barack Obama planned to provide an update to the American people on Saturday about his decisions on how to proceed in Syria amid preparations for a potential military strike.
Obama was to appear in the White House Rose Garden to deliver a statement. A White House official said his remarks were not an address about imminent military operations in Syria, but rather an update about his decisions on how to proceed in response to a Syrian chemical weapons attack August 21 that US officials say killed 1,429 people.
The remarks were prepared after Obama's top national security advisers gathered at the White House for talks, including Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
They were to give senators an unclassified briefing on the Syria situation in conference calls. Members of the House of Representatives are to receive a classified briefing on Sunday from White House officials, a notice from House Speaker John' Boehner's office said.
Obama had insisted on Friday that he had made no final determination on whether to launch an attack against Syrian government targets, but on Saturday there was a sense that plans might be advancing amid a flurry of meetings and consultations.
The United States was prepared to act on its own, perhaps with France but without a broad international coalition, to underscore what Obama said was a brutal and flagrant violation of international norms against the use of chemical weapons.
Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, said on Twitter that while there is no question the Syrian government used chemical weapons, the "question now is how to hold Syrian government accountable, keep Assad from using CW again."
A debate has raged for days in Washington among members of the US Congress over whether, or how quickly, Obama should take action. But with Obama promising a narrowly limited engagement and not an Iraq-type invasion, the White House was prepared to take the heat from opponents.
Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after consultations with administration officials that he was concerned a strike without broad participation would be of weakened value.
"I also urged the administration to send a powerful message to the Assad regime by immediately getting lethal aid to vetted elements of the Syrian opposition. Doing so can change the balance militarily and also contribute to a political solution in Syria," Levin said.
Obama has broad legal powers to take military action. He has made clear he believes the United States must do something to hold the Syrian government accountable for the attack.
(Writing by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen and Jackie Frank)