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Senate Committee May Vote Wednesday on Syria Strike

Senators reportedly reach an agreement on a resolution for military force in Syria. Vote expected Wednesday.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/4/2013, 3:45 AM

Kerry and Hagel before meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Kerry and Hagel before meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Reuters

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Tuesday evening he hoped a resolution on the use of U.S. military force in Syria would be ready by the end the day.

Speaking after a three-and-a-half hour hearing on Syria, Menendez said it was likely the panel could vote on the resolution on Wednesday.

Menendez said the text would be crafted in a way that would ensure the intervention is not an open-ended engagement and that “specifically not with boots on the ground, American troops on the ground."

Congressional aides told the Associated Press that Menendez and Sen. Bob Corker, the panel's top Republican, have reached an agreement on the resolution.

The resolution would limit the duration of any U.S. military action in response to the Syrian government's suspected use of chemical weapons on its people. It also would specifically bar U.S. ground troops from Syria, the aides told the news agency.

Among other provisions, the draft, according to the Reuters news agency, sets a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with a possibility for a single 30-day extension subject to conditions.

During Tuesday’s hearing, top officials in the Obama administration - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey - tried to secure support for the president’s proposal to strike in Syria.

Dempsey told the committee members that he had not been asked to change the momentum in the Syrian conflict, but instead develop options to degrade Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's military capabilities.

"I have never been told to change the momentum. I have been told to degrade capability," he stressed.

The top U.S. military officer also said that Russia may hike its military assistance to Syria should the United States strike, but said 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," said Dempsey.

Hagel warned at the hearing that failure to take action over Syria's use of chemical weapons would damage the credibility of America's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments - including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," he said, adding, "The word of the United States must mean something.”

"There are always risks in taking action, but there are also risks with inaction. The Assad regime, under increasing pressure by the Syrian opposition, could feel empowered to carry out even more devastating chemical weapons attacks. Chemical weapons make no distinction between combatants and innocent civilians, and inflict the worst kind of indiscriminate suffering, as we have recently seen,” said Hagel.

Kerry clarified that President Barack Obama was neither proposing nor leaving the door open to putting troops on the ground in Syria.

He added that failing to strike Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack would open a "Pandora's box" of "dangerous consequences," leaving U.S. allies questioning the worth of America's word and U.S. enemies itching to test America's resolve.

On Sunday, Kerry said that the administration had new evidence that sarin gas was used in the chemical attack.

"We know that the regime ordered this attack," he said. "We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards."

Intelligence reports by other countries, such as France and Germany, have also determined that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack on August 21. Germany has ruled out taking part in a strike in Syria, but French President Francois Hollande has expressed support.

Earlier Tuesday, the Obama administration won support for a strike on Syria from top congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner.

Boehner, emerging from a White House meeting, said the chemical weapons attack last month "has to be responded to.”

Minutes later, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she, too, feels Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has "crossed a line."

House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said definitively that he plans to vote in favor of giving Obama authorization to use military force.