US Senators set 60-day deadline and possible 30-day extension for military strikes in Syria
The revised resolution was crafted by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, following several days of negotiations. The panel could vote on the proposal by Wednesday.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were also involved in the discussions over the revised resolution.
Menendez and Corker both support Obama’s call for “limited, proportional” attacks on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.
Over the last two days, Corker had been insisting on a 30-day deadline for Obama to order any military action against Syria, but Democrats objected to that requirement.
The Tennessee Republican had also sought a flat-out prohibition on the insertion of any American ground forces into Syria.
But Democrats insisted that Obama should be allowed to do so under limited circumstances, such as special forces operations or to secure stocks of chemical weapons.
It remains an open question whether the new resolution can get 60 votes to overcome an expected filibuster. Reid and other top Democrats believe they can get 45 to 50 Democrats to back the use-of-force resolution, but aren’t sure there will be enough GOP support to get cloture. Neither McConnell nor Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the minority whip, have said how they will vote, and there is strong opposition among rank-and-file Republicans to any US involvement in Syria’s war.
The White House amplified its argument Tuesday for a military strike on Syria, assuring a congressional panel that it had detailed "physical evidence" that chemical weapons were used by government forces.
But in an hours-long appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Barack Obama’s top lieutenants on security and diplomacy faced aggressive questioning and struggled at times to explain overall US strategy on Syria and how the plan for a "limited" strike would fit into that picture.
Leading a trio of top Obama cabinet officials, Secretary of State John Kerry said the White House was certain "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad carried out chemical weapons attacks in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.
"We have physical evidence of where the rockets came from and when," Kerry said. "Not one rocket landed in regime-controlled territory."
However, when pressed early in the hearing about Obama’s promise not to place US "boots on the ground" in Syria, Kerry seemed to suggest this could not be completely ruled out, saying "I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the president to secure our country."
He later reiterated several times that the authorization for military action against Syria that Obama was seeking from Congress precluded any troop deployment and said the White House would be prepared to accept wording to a draft resolution making that entirely clear.
Kerry’s testimony was at one point interrupted by a protester who managed to enter the chamber where the committee hearing took place and who shouted "We don’t want another war!" and "The American people do not want this!" before being removed from the room by police.
Kerry was accompanied before the panel by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff.
Reminded that both he and Dempsey had only last spring spoken out against any military intervention in Syria, Hagel said the situation on the ground had changed and now required some kind of strike.
"We are dealing with a new set of realities based on facts," Hagel said. "This is about getting to an endgame. That endgame is a diplomatic settlement." "I strongly support President Obama's decision to seek congressional support for the use of military force in Syria," he says.
Hagel lists "key partners": "France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and friends in the region have assured us of their strong support," he says. "We are also committed to doing more to assisting the Syrian opposition."
Asked why Obama was calling for a limited military strike against Syria but did not want to take more robust action in line with his administration’s position that Assad cannot be included in any post-conflict political arrangement for Syria, Kerry and Hagel admitted the situation was "complicated."
Obama "is not asking the Congress for authorization to become whole hog involved in Syria’s civil war," Kerry said. "But, there is a separate track … which is that Assad must go, that he has lost all" authority to lead Syria.
Hagel echoed that notion, saying Obama now wanted Congress to approve "very specific and focused military action" but adding that "the goal of removing Assad from office is still the policy of the administration."
When Kerry at one point said experts in the region near Syria believed that if he were overthrown there could be a "fairly rapid transition" to a new government for the country, Sen. Ron Johnson retorted: "That tends to argue for a more robust response" than the White House says it is planning.
Kerry guarantees the committee that it's more dangerous in this case to do nothing: "If Congress does not to do this, I can guarantee, whether it's Assad in Syria or nuclear weapons in Iran or nuclear weapons in North Korea, we will have... a [certain] confrontation at some point in time that will require you to make a decision that will be even worse."
Sens. Paul, Udall, Barrasso. Rubio and Johnson made a lot of noise but not hard "No" noises.
The committee will hold a closed session tomorrow to look at classified evidence they're not at liberty to discuss this afternoon, Chairman Robert Menendez said. He called chemical attacks in Syria "an indirect attack on America's security with broader implications... for the world."
Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hoped a Senate resolution on the use of US military force in Syria would be written by the end of Tuesday, and it was likely the panel could vote on it on Wednesday.
Menendez said during a hearing that committee leaders and staff were working on a text that would let President Barack Obama's administration pursue military action in Syria, but ensure that it is not an open-ended engagement "and specifically not with boots on the ground, American troops on the ground."
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.
At the end of the 3-1/2 hour hearing on Syria, Menendez told the 18 committee members that a business meeting to vote on a text of the resolution was "likely" after a classified hearing with top administration officials on Wednesday morning.
"It is likely that we could very well be in a business meeting sometime after the classified hearing tomorrow morning," Menendez said.
Russia may hike military assistance to Syria should the United States strike, the top US military officer told Congress on Tuesday, adding, however, that was not a reason in his view to hesitate to act.
"There is some indication that they (the Russians) have assured the regime that if we destroy something, they can replace it," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff told a Senate hearing.
US President Barack Obama will have a chance to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Syria during the upcoming G20 summit in Russia, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.
The United States and Russia already are cooperating in many ways on resolving the conflict in Syria, Kerry said, pointing to joint US-Russian efforts to bring the sides to the negotiating table. The Russians are "serious about finding a way forward" and "are cooperating," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"We have to deal with this thoughtfully and let's hope that at the summit (they) might have some change of heart" when Obama presents information about the situation in Syria to Putin, he said.
Obama is due to leave later Tuesday for the Group of 20 summit, which Putin is hosting in St Petersburg. The White House canceled a one-on-one meeting between Obama and Putin over escalating tensions, but the two leaders will spend time together at broader summit meetings.
Failure by the United States to take military action against Syria would send a dangerous signal to Iran and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.
"Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test," Kerry told senators.
The United States must "stand up and act" to punish the Syrian regime and cannot resort to isolationism in the face of "slaughter," Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers Tuesday.
"This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to a slaughter," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence," Kerry said, according to prepared remarks."We have spoken up against unspeakable horror. Now we must stand up and act," he added.
Kerry made an impassioned case for punitive strikes against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons after President Barack Obama put off military action to first ask Congress for approval.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will be witnesses at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the authorization of the use of military force in Syria, the committee said. Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World, Kuala Lumpur, talked with the Voice of Russia about the controversial debate.
The US Congress is set to discuss military intervention in Syria later in the day. Earlier Obama gained the support of two key Congress members, senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. How possible is it now that Obama’s intention to start operations in Syria will be backed by the other Congress members?
There is a very high likelihood that it will be backed by the Congress, meaning both the Senate and the House of Representatives. There is I think a very important factor that we have to keep in mind here. If you look at the US Congress, it is influenced to a great extent by lobbies and there are I think powerful lobbies in the US which are inclined towards a war, towards taking action against the Syrian Government.
So, I think they would lobby very-very hard, even though we know that 50% of the American population is against military action. But in the end, lobbies shape politics in the US.
Right now is probably the time to think about the possible consequences of any sort of a military attack on Syria. If the crisis escalates to a limited war in Syria, what are the chances that military groups in neighboring countries will attempt an immediate response? I’m talking about Hezbollah, for example.
It is very difficult to predict how the so-called limited military action would evolve. It is something which would depend to some extent upon the response of the Syrian Military Command. It would also depend to a great extent on Hezbollah and how it would respond to the situation. The Hezbollah leadership has said that they will wait until the US strikes, and then they would decide how they would respond.
It also depends, I think, on Iran and how Iran would assess the situation, and what their response would be. And we cannot exclude a response from Russia, because Russia has a naval port, the Tartus and Russia is a very close ally of the Syrian Government, and the Russian position is very clear.
So, with all these major actors whose responses will shape the conflict, it is I think somewhat naïve of US lawmakers to say “we can control the situation. It will be limited, it will be over in two or three days”. There is no such guarantee. It is something that could spin out of control, as has happened in some other situations. And it may go on and on for months, perhaps, even for years.
I think what the US public and the US lawmakers should look at is the situation in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan. These are the examples they should look at. And even if they look at a country like Libya, who can say today that Libya is peaceful or stable? It is a nation where the militias are very strong. So, I think this is the type of situation that may evolve in Syria. And for that reason a military action would be extremely foolish.
Quite a few people are really perplexed because Obama’s decision to start a military operation in Syria is widely criticized both in America and abroad. So, why is he pushing so hard for this intervention? What do you think is behind that?
We should try to perhaps understand who are really behind the military intervention. I suspect that there is a powerful Israeli Zionist lobby that is behind this, because you know that Israel occupies the Golan Heights and one third of Israel’s water comes from the Golan Heights. They are also drilling for oil and gas in the Golan Heights. So, they have a direct stake in controlling Syria and its future.
And the other countries in the region who are pushing for this – I think the Saudis are pushing very hard to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, partly because of their Wahhabi ideology. They are closely related to some of these narrow-minded, bigoted Islamic groups. There is Qatar, which is also part of the game. And we have Turkey, which sees Iran as a rival and wants to dominate the region.
So, these are the regional actors and then you have the Western imperialists. Apart from the USA you’ve got Britain and France. France was once the colonial power in Syria. So, they believe in controlling that region. They believe in ensuring their perpetual hegemony over west Asia. And this is why I think they are determined to bring about a regime change in Damascus.
Voice of Russia, politico.com, RIA, Reuters, dpa, AFP