Strike against Syria advances as U.S. rounds up global support

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 10:21:36 by

U.S. President Barack Obama’s push for strikes against Syria has passed its first congressional hurdle amid frantic search for international support of the military action to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed a resolution to authorize a military strike against Syria, advancing the vote to a divided Congress. The panel voted 10-7 to pass the resolution, with Senator Edward Markey voting present, clearing the way for a full Senate vote, likely to take place next week.

However, the vote showed deep division inside the Senate, as the resolution was greeted with both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.

Three Republicans, John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, voted yes with seven Democrats. Two Democrats, Tom Udall and Chris Murphy, rejected the authorization, joining forces with five Republicans who voted no, including Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, both likely candidates for Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

The resolution was seen as narrower than the one drafted by the White House. It limits hostilities to 60 days, with the option for a 30-day extension, and narrows the conflict inside Syria’s borders, while forbids U.S. ground troops to engage in combat operations, except for rescue missions in case of emergency.

The resolution also requires the White House to present Congress with a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian conflict in 30 days after the resolution goes into effect, Chinese Xinhua news agency has reported.

The resolution was drafted by committee chair Robert Menendez and Republican ranking member Bob Corker. The committee used the whole morning in a closed-door meeting to hammer out a compromise, as it ran into considerable opposition.

Summing up his opposition, Udall said he voted against the resolution “because this policy moves the United States toward greater involvement in the Syria civil war.”

Menendez admitted the full chamber vote may need a 60-vote supermajority to clear.

The Senate committee vote is only the first step for Obama to obtain Congressional support in striking Syria. The House is believed to be even more divided than the Senate on this issue, as witnessed by a contentious hearing in the lower chamber’s foreign relations committee, attended by Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

Ed Royce, the House committee’s chair, said during the hearing that he was skeptical that the United States would be able to avoid an escalation in fighting.

“The president promises a military operation in Syria of limited scope and duration,” said Royce. “But the Assad regime would have a say in what happens next. That’d be particularly true as President Obama isn’t aiming to change the situation on the ground.”


ROUNDING UP GLOBAL SUPPORT: As the arduous journey to a military strike against Syria continues in the U.S. Congress, the Obama administration pushed on with its efforts to round up support internationally, with Obama making a case for action during a visit to Sweden.

At a joint press conference with Swedish prime minister earlier in the day in Stockholm, Obama insisted that the international community “cannot be silent” and must act on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians, an accusation Syria denies.

Obama also drew a new line on his “red line,” saying he “didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”

“When I said that my calculus would be altered by chemical weapons, which the overall consensus of humanity says is wrong — that’s not something I just made up. I didn’t pick it out of thin air,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript. “My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’ credibility’ s on the line.”

Led by Obama, the administration is actively pursuing international support for a military action in Syria. During the House Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Kerry said the U.S. side has “reached out to over 100 countries,” adding that several allies in the Middle East have “offered to be part of this operation,” without naming those countries.

“I will be meeting with the foreign ministers of Europe, the 28 foreign ministers in Vilnius on Saturday. This will clearly be a topic of discussion. And many of them have had reservations, waiting for the evidence. So I see many more countries joining,” Kerry said.

Kerry is to attend the European Union (EU) foreign ministers meeting Saturday in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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