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US Senate Agrees Draft Resolution on Syria Strike








Obama wins key political support on Syria action









US Senate agrees draft resolution on Syria strike

By Oliver FARRY (video) FRANCE 24 (text), AFP, September 4, 2013 

 A key US Senate committee agreed a draft resolution on Tuesday authorising the use of military action in Syria. If approved, the resolution would place a 60-day limit on military strikes and prohibit the use of ground troops.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Tuesday it had reached an agreement on a draft authorisation backing the use of military force in Syria, but setting strict limits on the scope of any possible strikes.

Among the provisions set out by the draft resolution, which will be voted on Wednesday by the committee, is a 60-day limit on US military action in the country, with a possibility of a single 30-day extension subject to conditions.

The draft also expressly forbids the deployment of any US ground forces in the country.

US President Barack Obama is asking Congress to back his call for limited US strikes on Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians during a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

If the new draft resolution is approved by the committee on Wednesday, it will be sent to the full Senate for a vote after members return from their summer recess on September 9.

The House of Representatives must also pass its own version of the military authorisation, and the two must be reconciled before they can be submitted for Obama’s signature.

Senate agreement ‘narrow and focused’

Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreement was put together by Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican.

Along with the 60-day time limit and restrictions on ground forces, the resolution would also require Obama to consult with Congress and submit to the Senate and House of Representatives foreign relations panel a strategy for negotiating a political settlement to the Syria conflict, including a review of all forms of assistance to the rebels fighting to oust Assad.

This is a provision requested by several senators, including the influential Republican John McCain.

If Obama wants longer than 60 days to carry out any military action, he can request a single 30-day extension from Congress if he can demonstrate it is necessary and if he makes the request no later than five days before the 60-day limit expires.

“Together we have pursued a course of action that gives the president the authority he needs to deploy force in response to the Assad regime’s criminal use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, while assuring that the authorisation is narrow and focused, limited in time, and assures that the Armed Forces of the United States will not be deployed for combat operations in Syria,” Menendez said in a statement.

Obama also won key support on Tuesday for the military action from two leading republicans in the House of Representatives.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor both pledged their backing to an armed intervention in Syria following a congressional meeting with the President at the White House.

Their support could be key if Obama is to convince the Republican-majority House of Representatives to approve military action.

However, the President is likely to be disappointed by the narrow limits set by the Foreign Relations Committee’s draft resolution.

Earlier on Tuesday, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry had urged the committee not to limit US authority to strike Syria to "one specific moment," saying that the military should have alternate strike options in the event of further chemical weapons use.

Kerry also initially said he would prefer not to bar "boots on the ground", the use of ground troops in Syria.

"I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country," Kerry told the committee.

However, when Senator Corker told Kerry he "didn't find that a very appropriate response regarding boots on the ground", the secretary of state seemed to backtrack.

Kerry said he was simply "thinking out loud" and raising a hypothetical situation, clarifying that he did not want to send ground troops to Syria.

"Let's shut the door now," Kerry said. "The answer is, whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress or the American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war."


Obama wins key political support on Syria action  

By Oliver FARRY (video) FRANCE 24 (text), AFP, September 4, 2013 

US President Barack Obama won key political support on Tuesday for a military strike on Syria, after congressional leaders from both parties backed his “call for action”.

As US President Barack Obama urged swift congressional action authorising the use of military force in Syria on Tuesday leaders from both sides of the political aisle voiced their support for limited strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Obama told congressional leaders at a White House meeting that the United States has a broad plan to help opposition forces defeat Syrian government troops.

After the meeting, two key Republicans in the House of Representatives – Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor – said they would back military action in Syria. House Minority Leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, also said she would give her support to the president.

“Only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated,” Boehner told reporters. “I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action.”

The backing came as Obama stepped up efforts to drum up support for military action in Syria in response to the suspected use of sarin gas in an attack outside the capital Damascus on August 21. The White House has said it has evidence that the Syrian government was behind the onslaught, which it says claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people.

“What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade Assad’s capabilities,” Obama told reporters. “At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition.”

Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will present the administration’s case for US military action at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, which is set to begin at 2:30pm ET (18:30 GMT).

Obama had said on Saturday he would seek lawmakers’ approval for a possible military strike, slowing what had appeared to be plans for a swift action. He has faced stiff resistance from some lawmakers and polls show strong public opposition to US action.

Support from the leaders of both parties could help Obama make his case, but many US lawmakers, including Obama’s fellow Democrats, have said they are concerned the president’s draft resolution could be too open-ended and allow possible use of ground troops or eventual attacks on other countries.

The draft resolution authorises Obama to use military force as necessary to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” to or from Syria of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. Some Democrats said the language should be more limiting to ensure it does not authorise the use of ground troops.

US Government map of areas reportedly affected by Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack

Obama told congressional leaders he was willing to address their concerns about the authorisation.

“I look forward to listening to the various concerns of the members who are here today. I am confident that those concerns can be addressed,” he said.

“I would not be going to Congress if I wasn’t serious about consultations and believing that by shaping the authorization to make sure we accomplish the mission, we will be more effective.”

Along with Boehner and Pelosi, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, as well as the chairs of congressional committees that deal with national security and the armed services, attended the meeting.

Asked whether he was confident Congress would vote in favour of a strike, Obama said: “I am.”

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said he was confident the resolution would pass Congress, but in amended form.

“I believe that we will get there,” he said, although he added: “I think our resolution that we will ultimately see will be far more tailored than what the administration sent us.” ‘Need to act'

“At the end of the day, (it) will strike the balance between the need to act and act in a way that meets our goals and not create an open-ended, boots-on-the-ground long-term proposition,” Menendez told CNBC in an interview.

Menendez, speaking on CBS News, said he wanted Kerry and Hagel to offer “the full case for the use of force” and detail “what that campaign will look like in broad terms, especially as it relates to the end result.”

The committee will also hold a closed hearing on Wednesday to discuss the intelligence related to Syria, Menendez told CBS.

It could then begin debate on a Senate version of the bill on Wednesday afternoon, with the aim of sending it to the full Senate for debate next week.

The House and the Senate return from their summer recess on September 9. Both chambers would have to approve the authorisation, and it remains unclear whether the Obama administration has the votes.

While he is seeking congressional approval, Obama has said he does not actually require authorisation for a strike on Syria.

Republican Senator John McCain, who attended a White House meeting on Syria on Monday, said Obama “would seriously consider” providing weapons to opponents fighting Assad.

“We discussed ... increasing the capabilities and that means providing not only weapons, but the kind of weapons they need, which are anti-armor and anti-air. AK-47s don’t do very well against tanks,” McCain told CNN’s “New Day.”

Both McCain and Menendez said that although any action would be aimed at degrading Assad’s capabilities to deliver chemical weapons, it could also undermine the Syrian government itself and shift momentum in favour of the rebels.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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