The president came to the unexpected decision during a walk Friday evening with his chief of staff Denis McDonough, just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry made a forceful case for the U.S. to attack Syria, sources told NBC News.
After Obama returned from the stroll around the South Lawn, he called senior aides, leading to meetings Friday night and Saturday morning, the sources said.
Obama stressed on Saturday that American warships in the Mediterranean Sea still stood poised to strike at any time, despite the move that would place a hold on any imminent military action.
"Over the last several days, we have heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard," Obama said. "I absolutely agree."
Just minutes after Obama's statement, the Syrian army recommenced its shelling of rebel-held Damascus suburbs, which had halted for several hours.
In his statement, Obama condemned Assad's regime, describing the alleged chemical attack as "an assault on human dignity" that "presents a serious danger to our national security."
He had previously characterized the use of chemical weapons as a "red line" Assad should not be permitted to cross.
Obama pledged that any military involvement would be of "limited duration and scope."
"This would not be an open-ended intervention," he said. "We would not put boots on the ground."
Before revealing he would seek approval from Congress, the President made clear that "we are prepared to strike whenever we choose."
Strikes would be "effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now," Obama said, adding that he is "prepared to give that order."
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