Syria: Strikes would "tarnish" U.S. image in Mideast

(CBS News) The deputy foreign minister of Syria told CBS News on Monday that President Obama is "confused" on policy toward his country, and reiterated the regime's rejection of White House claims of evidence proving that Bashar Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons against his own people.

Syria's government-run media mocked Obama's decision to seek congressional approval to launch military strikes, calling the decision a hallmark of "the historic American retreat."

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad told CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer in the capital city of Damascus on Monday that President Obama had clearly realized taking military action against Syria would be a dangerous maneuver, and he called Mr. Obama's request for congressional approval appropriate.

When Palmer pressed Mekdad on how the Syrian regime would respond to an attack, he told her: "The Middle East is already on fire now, and we think any wisdom in the United States -- and we hope the Congress will exercise this wisdom -- will not allow the United States to tarnish its image once again in wars in the Middle East."

He refused to be drawn on Syria's plans for retaliation should the U.S. stage a military attack, telling Palmer, "I'm not a military man, but the door is open to all possibilities."

He would not discuss the widely held fear that Syria could respond to military strikes by aiming some of its missiles at Israel.

The regime continues to deny responsibility for the chemical attack in Ghouta and says they have not yet had a chance to interview the civilian victims, which, Palmer reports, indicates the rebels' tight grip on the area where the attack took place.

Palmer also asked Mekdad whether, in his mind, Mr. Obama's decision to seek congressional backing made him look weaker or stronger. He said only the American people could decide that, but he warned the only benefactors of an American strike would be Islamic militants fighting alongside the rebels in his country.

"When an aggression takes place against Syria, we should not ask whether a weak president or a strong president has made the decision," said Mekdad. "It is purely an aggressive act. It is a violation of the United Nations, disrespect of international norms and the only party -- I assure you, the only party which will benefit from such an action is al Qaeda."

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