Senate committee backs Obama on Syria strike
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Wednesday afternoon to give President Obama the latitude to strike at Syria for the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.
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Putin said in an interview with The Associated Press that Russia "doesn't exclude" supporting a UN resolution on military strikes against the Syrian government if it is proved that government forces used poison gas on civilians. But he said it was "ludicrous" that Syria would use chemical weapons at a time when rebels were on the defensive.Skip to next paragraph
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Elsewhere on Wednesday:
— In Rome, Pope Francis underscored Vatican opposition to threatened military strikes against Syria, urging Catholics and non-Catholics alike to take part in a day of fasting and prayer for peace on Saturday. He has called for a negotiated settlement in Syria and also has condemned the use of chemical weapons.
— In France, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament that failure to take action would allow Assad to launch more chemical attacks.
In Washington, Kerry said Assad had used chemical weapons 11 times, including once last spring. At that time, he said, Obama did not have a "compelling" enough case to push for a US military response.
As for the most recent chemical weapons attack, Kerry declared that "only the most willful desire to avoid reality can assert that this did not occur as described or that the regime did not do it. It did happen - and the Assad regime did do it."
Few if any members of Congress dispute the administration's claim that Assad was responsible for the attack, and lawmakers in both parties appear far more focused on determining how they should respond.
Gaveling the House committee hearing to order, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said that while it would be important to deter the use of chemical weapons by Assad and others, there remained many unanswered questions, including what the US would do if Assad retaliated.
"The administration's Syria policy doesn't build confidence," he said.
In a letter to her rank and file, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said she had received suggestions for legislation in the House "to add language to prevent boots on the ground, to tie the authorization more closely to the use of chemical weapons and to address concerns about an open-ended timetable."
In his comments in Sweden, the president sought to shift the onus for responding to Assad to Congress and the world at large. "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line" with a treaty banning the use of chemical weapons. He added that "Congress set a red line" when it passed legislation a decade ago demanding Syria stop production of weapons of mass destruction.
His comments drew a disbelieving response from one Republican back home.
"He needs to go back and read his quote," Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said, referring to a comment the president made slightly more than a year ago. On Aug. 20, 2012, Obama said, "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. ... "That would change my calculus" about military action, he added at the time.
In addition to his remarks at a news conference on Wednesday, Obama also likened the challenge confronting the United States and the world with regard to Syria to the actions of Raoul Wallenberg a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from death during the Holocaust. Obama went to the Great Synagogue of Stockholm, where he stood with Jewish leaders and said, "Because he refused to stand by, Wallenberg reminds us of our power when we choose not simply to bear witness, but also to act."
An Associated Press survey of lawmakers indicated many were withholding judgment on legislation.
In the Senate, 17 said they support or are leaning in favor of giving Obama the authority he seeks, with 14 opposed or leaning against.
The other 69 were undecided or their views were not known.