Washington/London: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied that he was behind a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, as the White House on Sunday pressed ahead with the uphill effort of persuading Congress to approve a military strike to punish Assad.
The Obama administration faces a crucial test vote set for Wednesday in the U.S. Senate and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made the rounds of five Sunday talk shows to argue for a resolution authorizing a limited strike on Syria.
In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not rule out France's suggestion that it go to the U.N. Security Council for an authorization of a possible military strike once U.N. inspectors complete their report on the August 21 attack near Damascus in which more than 1,400 people were killed.
Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, have blocked previous efforts to punish the Syrian government. The United States and France hold that Assad was behind the attack and should be deterred from using chemical weapons again.
Assad denied involvement the attack and said if the United States has evidence, Washington should produce it, CBS reported on Sunday on its news program "Face the Nation.
"There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," CBS reported Assad said in an interview conducted in Damascus. The report was a summary of the interview and did not contain any audio or video of Assad.
Assad said he feared an attack might degrade the Syrian military and tip the balance in the 2-1/2-year-old civil war, CBS reported.
The Syrian president also warned that if there was a military strike by the United States, there would be retaliation by those aligned with Syria, CBS said.
In London, Kerry countered Assad, saying "The evidence speaks for itself."
President Barack Obama faces an uphill climb to persuade U.S. lawmakers returning from a summer recess to vote for military action. During the break, their constituents voiced strong objections to the action, worrying that it would drag the country into another costly, and broader, Middle East conflict.
Opinion polls show most Americans oppose a strike. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said 56 percent of Americans believed the United States should not intervene in Syria; 19 percent backed action.
McDonough, the White House chief of staff, led the administration's lobbying effort on Sunday, part of an intensive push for support that will continue on Monday when Obama sits for six network television interviews and culminate with an address to the country on Tuesday night.
"Are there consequences for a dictator who would have used those weapons to gas to death hundreds of children? The answer to that question ... will be followed closely in Damascus, but will also be followed closely in Tehran, among Lebanese Hezbollah, and others. So this is a very important week," McDonough said on the "Fox News Sunday" program.
While Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is a supporter of the strikes, he said Obama had made "a hash" of his argument to punish Assad.
"It's very clear he's lost support in the last week," Rogers said on CBS' "Face the Nation." He said Obama should have called Congress back from its summer break for classified briefings on the proposed strikes, and the administration needed to "regroup."
"The president hasn't made the case," Rogers said.
Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said that "if I were the president, I would withdraw my request. I don't believe the support is there in Congress." He spoke on CNN's "State of the Union"
Congressional surveys make it clear Obama has a difficult task. A Washington Post vote count showed 223 House members either against or leaning against authorizing the use of military force in Syria. That is more than the 217 needed to block the resolution.
The White House has said