(CNSNews.com) - On orders from President Obama, the U.S. is now conducting surveillance flights over Syria, possible preparation for air strikes against Islamic terrorists operating there, the Associated Press reported Monday night.
"What I can tell you is the president has not made a decision to pursue any sort of military action in Syria," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters earlier on Monday.
Earnest also refused to speculate on "what sort of congressional approval would be requested or required based on a military action that hasn't been ordered at this point."
Nevertheless, Earnest assured reporters that President Obama "remains committed...to consulting regularly with members of Congress and congressional leaders. Those discussions have taken place between the president and congressional leaders as well as at the "staff-level," Earnest noted.
"As you recall, over the course of the last several weeks, there have been a number of war powers notifications that have been submitted to Congress as they relate to specific military actions that have been ordered by the president in Iraq. So the president remains committed to this process, he remains committed to consultations, but I'm not going to speculate at this point about what may or may not be requested or required based on a decision that hasn't been made."
One year ago, when President Obama wanted to order air strikes on Syria's Assad regime, he agreed -- under pressure -- to take that request to Congress for a debate and a vote.
"[W]hile I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course," Obama said in an Aug. 31, 2013 speech in the Rose Garden. Obama at the time said the United States "must not turn a blind eye" to Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people.
On Monday, a reporter asked Earnest if Obama would seek a similar congressional debate and vote if he decides to attack ISIS/ISIL terrorists who are fighting the Assad regime in Syria in an attempt to establish their own Islamic state.
The White House views the two situations "differently," Earnest said. Last year, the president was trying to stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons.
"What we're talking about now is not about the Assad regime but about the strength that's posed by ISIL that's operating in both Iraq and in Syria. So the president is serious, as he's already demonstrated, about confronting the threat posed by ISIL. That's, after all, why the president has already ordered air strikes in Iraq.
"That said, it's important to remember...that military force, military might, is not the only tool in the toolbox here -- that the sustainable solution to this situation will require the active involvement of an effective, inclusive Iraqi government."
Earnest repeated that President Obama "does remain committed to coordinating and consulting with Congress as he exercises his responsibilities and authorities as the commander-in-chief of the United States of America.
"The president recognizes that Congress has an important role to play. He also recognizes that he has an important role to play as the commander in chief and as the individual who is ultimately responsible for the national security of the United States of America and the American people. The president will not hesitate to use his authority as he's already demonstrated, to keep the American people safe..."
Syria's foreign minister on Monday warned the United States to get permission from the Assad regime before launching any air strikes against the terrorists. "Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression," said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
"I think they have a good sense of humor in Damascus," former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told Fox News on Monday night.
"It is inconceivable that any sensible American government would ask permission or coordinate with Assad at all. We have to decide what our objective is with the Islamic State. If it's to destroy the Islamic State, which is what I think it should be...then we do what's necessary, and that does not include asking Assad's permission," Bolton said.