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Senate panel struggles for consensus on Syria military strikes

Last Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 00:43

Washington: The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee struggled on Wednesday to reach agreement on a resolution authorizing military strikes in Syria, but scheduled a vote for later in the day as Obama administration officials pressed for action in Congress.

Committee Chairman Robert Menendez convened the panel to consider a compromise resolution on military intervention that is more limited than President Barack Obama`s original proposal.

Obama is asking for authority for limited military strikes to respond to what he said was the Syrian government`s use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, killing more than 1,400 people.

The committee meeting was delayed for a few hours after some senators, including Republican John McCain, objected to the more narrow wording. The top Republican on the panel, Bob Corker, said after a closed-door session, however, that he thought a consensus was building.

The authorization of military action still faces significant resistance in Congress, where many lawmakers fear it could lead to a prolonged US military involvement in Syria`s civil war and spark an escalation of regional violence.

If the measure gets a majority of votes from the 18-member panel, the full Senate is expected to vote on it next week. The House of Representatives also must approve the measure before it can be sent to Obama for his signature.

Many lawmakers say they are worried the resolution could lead to US ground troops, or "boots on the ground," in Syria - which administration officials said would not happen.

"It`s very clear on the House side there is no support for boots on the ground," Houses Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said on Wednesday at a hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kerry answered flatly, "There will be no boots on the ground, the president has said it again and again."


Obama and administration officials say US national security and international credibility is at stake in the decision whether to use force in Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad`s government.

The administration`s initial resolution on military force was criticized as too broad, prompting Menendez and Corker to negotiate a draft that set a 60-day limit on any engagement and barred the use of the US military on the ground in Syria for combat operations.

That went too far for hawks such as McCain, who has pushed for a broader resolution that would allow direct US support for Syrian rebels and to weaken Assad`s military forces.

He told reporters before the morning closed-door session he opposed the compromise draft resolution "in its current form."

McCain said he wants three main results from the authorization: degrading Assad`s ability to use chemical weapons, increasing support for the Free Syrian Army and other rebel forces, and reversing battlefield momentum to create conditions for Assad`s removal.

At this point, scores of members of both parties have yet to stake out a public position, other than to say they are looking for more answers.

In the Senate, Democratic leader Harry Reid is guardedly confident that a majority of the 100 members will vote yes, but is still unsure if he can get the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican procedural roadblocks, aides said.

In the 435-member House, a senior Republican aide predicted that most of the 50 or so Republicans backed by the anti-big government Tea Party movement will vote no. A number of Democratic liberals are also expected to vote against a resolution, placing the final outcome in doubt.


First Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 00:43
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