Senate panel OKs authorization request for military strike on Syria

Sept. 4, 2013 at 4:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a limited military response to the Syrian regime's reported use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The resolution that grants President Barack Obama limited authority to launch the military strike was approved on a 10-7 vote, with one member voting "present," The Washington Post reported.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey have been testifying at hearings on Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday.

Before passing the resolution, senators on the panel approved an amendment to expand it, specifying the goal of U.S. military intervention in Syria should be to bolster the Free Syrian Army, The Hill reported.

The amendment, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., included language that the goal of the U.S. strikes should be to reduce Assad's ability to use chemical weapons.

The committee adopted two other McCain-Coons amendments by voice vote. One would state U.S. strategy toward Syria should aim "to degrade the capabilities of the Assad regime to use weapons of mass destruction while upgrading the lethal and non-lethal military capabilities of vetted elements of Syrian opposition forces."

The second amendment reiterated it is U.S. policy that Assad's stepping aside, an end to violence and a negotiated political settlement, are prerequisites for regional peace and security.

The panel voted 14-4 to table an amendment offered by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would express, as the sense of the Senate, the president lacks constitutional authority to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not pose "an actual or imminent threat" to the United States.

After a hearing on Obama's authorization request Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed on the wording of a resolution that would give Obama the authority to carry out a strike against Syria for 60 days, with one 30-day extension.

The resolution, drafted by committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the committee's top Republican, would limit the president's options and prohibit the use of ground forces and would require Obama to send a plan to Congress outlining a diplomatic solution to end the Syrian violence within 30 days of the resolution's enactment.

In the House, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee showed division over a possible military strike on Syria as Obama's security team explained it.

During a hearing Wednesday, committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., voiced skepticism the United States could avoid an escalation in fighting, The New York Times reported.

"The president promises a military operation in Syria of limited scope and duration," Royce said. "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."

Royce said the administration's planning was incomplete and asked whether various scenarios had been taken into account.

"If our credibility is on the line now, as is argued, what about if Assad retaliates?" Royce said. "Americans are skeptical of getting near a conflict that, as one witness has noted, is fueled by 'historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues.'"

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., offered a contrary view, calling on Congress to authorize a limited strike he said was needed to restore deterrence against the use of weapons of mass destruction.

"If we don't pass the authorization measure, what message will [Syrian President Bashar] Assad get?" Engel said. "Iran? Hezbollah?"

The House version would limit Obama's authority to 60 days, prohibit any U.S. forces on the ground in Syria and prevent Obama from using force beyond the initial punitive strikes unless he certifies Syrian forces again used chemical weapons.

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