A US military strike on Syria would aim to stop a campaign by President Bashar al-Assad's regime "to kill their way to victory," a top US official said Friday.
US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power made the statement as she sought to win over the many Americans who worry about US intervention in the 30-month-old conflict after Assad's suspected use of chemical weapons.
Ahead of a congressional debate on the proposed strike, Power acknowledged that the US public is "ambivalent" about a military attack on Syria.
But she highlighted the precedent of Kosovo in 1999 for acting without UN Security Council approval and said it could help bring Assad to the table to negotiate an end to the war.
"This operation combined with ongoing efforts to upgrade the military capabilities of the moderate opposition should reduce the regime's faith that they can kill their way to victory," Power said.
Again slamming UN Security Council paralysis over the war, she added: "In this instance the use of limited military force can strengthen our diplomacy and energize the efforts of the UN and others to achieve a negotiated settlement to the underlying conflict."
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Doubts have been raised about the legality of any strike that does not get UN backing and the US envoy did not offer any legal justification for military action, which is also bitterly opposed by Russia.
"It is clear that Syria is one of those occasions, like Kosovo, where the council is so paralyzed that countries have to act outside it if they are to prevent the flouting of international laws and morals," Power said.
A 1999 NATO bombing campaign halted an offensive by Serb forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
President Barack Obama is now seeking Congress and international support for a US military strike in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21.
It is not yet clear however whether Obama will win a Congress vote to go ahead with the action.
The United States says more than 1,400 people died in the sarin assault. Assad's government has blamed opposition rebels for the attack.
"In Assad's cost-benefit calculus, he must have weighed the military benefits of using this hideous weapon against the recognition that he could get away with it because Russia would have Syria's back in the Security Council," Power said.
The envoy added that if the United States did not "summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear" then "the alternative is to give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience, outrages that will eventually compel us to use force anyway down the line, at far greater risk and cost to our own citizens."