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Kerry, Hagel Urge Senators To Back Syria Strikes

  • RFE/RL

The U.S. secretaries of state and defense are urging the Senate to back a resolution authorizing "limited" military intervention in Syria, as proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 3, Secretary of State John Kerry said "the world is watching" to see whether the United States would respond to the "assault on conscience" of apparent chemical weapons attacks in Syria or stand by.

"We're here because against multiple warnings from the president of the United States, from the Congress, from our friends and all around the world, and even from Russia and Iran, the Assad regime -- and only, undeniably, the Assad regime -- unleashed an outrageous chemical attack against its own citizens. We're here because a dictator and his family's personal enterprise, in their lust to hold on to power, were willing to infect the air of Damascus with a poison that killed innocent mothers and fathers and hundreds of their children, their lives all snuffed out by gas," Kerry said.

He said any failure to do so could embolden terrorists, Iran, and North Korea. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said strikes would degrade the Assad regime's ability to carry out chemical attacks.

Hagel emphasized that no U.S. troops would be deployed in Syria and that the president was not seeking authorization to carry out regime change.

"The president has made clear that our military objectives in Syria would be to hold the Assad regime accountable, degrade its ability to carry out these kinds of attacks, and deter the regime from further use of chemical weapons. The Department of Defense has developed military options to achieve these objectives, and we have positioned U.S. assets throughout the region to successfully execute this mission. We believe we can achieve them with a military action that would be limited in duration and scope," Hagel said.

The hearing was briefly interrupted by a protester.

Earlier, Obama had expressed confidence that he will be able to work with Congress to pass a resolution authorizing "limited" military intervention in Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel


"The key point that I want to emphasize to the American people [is that] the military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs [of staff] -- and [which] I believe is appropriate -- is proportional," Obama said at the White House on September 3 during a meeting with leaders from both the main U.S. political parties in the House of Representatives and Senate.

"It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan. This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences."

Obama indicated that he is proposing military action that would degrade Assad's capacity to use chemical weapons.

A vote in Congress on the issue is expected next week.

House Republican Speaker John Boehner, who attended the White House meeting, backed Obama's call for an intervention.

"I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action," he said. "We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we are not going to tolerate this type of behavior. We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it's necessary."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she did not believe Congress will reject a resolution calling for force, saying deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction was a "pillar of our national security."

The United States says Assad's regime carried out a poison-gas attack near Damascus on August 21 in which Washington says more than 1,400 people were killed.

France, which has emerged as the main U.S. ally in the Syria crisis, released an intelligence report on September 2 that also blamed Assad's regime for the attack.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on September 3 that any "punitive" action against Syria could unleash more bloodshed in the country's civil war.

He added that if chemical weapons have been used in Syria, the UN Security Council should take action against what would be "an outrageous war crime."

Russia, which along with China has blocked UN Security Council resolutions against Assad, said on September 2 that it remains totally unconvinced the attack was carried out by Assad's forces.

Beijing has warned of the risks of unilateral military action.

"China supports the United Nations conducting an independent, fair, objective, and professional investigation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters on September 3. "What actions the international community should take next should be determined by the results of the investigation, which should clarify whether or not someone used chemical weapons in Syria, and who used the chemical weapons. The results should be the premise and precondition for any action taken by the international community for the next step."

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

In an interview published in a French daily on September 2, Assad said the Middle East was a powder keg and that a Western attack on Syria could push the entire region into chaos.


With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa
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