Split Senate panel portends tough fight for Barack Obama on Syria

Obama to have tough fight on Syria
Washington, Sept 5: As President Barack Obama took his case for a punitive military strike against Syria abroad, a divided Senate panel narrowly approved use of force resolution, foreshadowing a tough fight in the Congress.

The White House welcomed the compromise Senate Foreign Relations committee resolution that limits military action to 60 days, with a possible 30-day extension, and specifically prohibits the use of American ground troops.

"America is stronger when the president and Congress work together," it declared commending the panel "for moving swiftly and for working across party lines on behalf of our national security".

The White House also vowed to "continue to work with Congress to build on this bipartisan support for a military response that is narrowly tailored to enforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and sufficient to protect the national security interests of the United States of America".

But as the New York Times editorially pointed out the 10-7 vote with seven Democrats and three Republicans voting yes and five Republicans and two Democrats saying no, "showed there is no strong consensus yet on this critical question".

While Obama administration officials cited by the Times expected the full Senate to vote next week, after Congress returns from recess Sep 9, "they did not think the House would act until the week after and were girding for a prolonged debate".

The Times also suggested that "Congressional Democrats, torn over involving the United States in another unpredictable Middle East war, are emerging as a major barrier" to Obama's plan to strike Syria.

"With rank-and-file House Republicans showing little inclination to back Mr. Obama on an issue on which he has staked his political credibility, scores of Democratic votes will be needed if a resolution authorising force against Syria is to pass the House," it said.

Continuing Obama administration's all out push to win support for military action against Syria, three top officials again went to the Capitol Hill to face four hours of grilling by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey again faced tough questions on the effectiveness of the punitive strikes in deterring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons again.

Kerry also said on Wednesday he has "no doubt" Obama will soon make a speech on Syria from the Oval Office to make his case for limited military strikes directly to the American public even as he seeks congressional approval for use of force.

"America is stronger when the president and Congress work together"

Meanwhile, according to CNN House Speaker John Boehner turned down a request from Russian diplomats for a meeting on Syria with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. "The Speaker has declined the Russian embassy's request that he meet with a delegation," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel was quoted as saying. A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington told CNN Wednesday that diplomats had sent an official request for a meeting between members of the Russian parliament and senators and House members of both political parties.

Earlier, Obama tried to win international support for a punitive military strike on Syria saying "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line" regarding use of chemical weapons.

"My credibility is not on the line -- the international community's credibility is on the line," he said at a joint news conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who opposes military intervention without UN approval.


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