US politicians weigh intervention in Syria

Senate panel says draft authorisation for use of military force addresses time limits and ban on use of ground troops.

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2013 10:15
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Leaders of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they reached an agreement on a draft authorisation for the use of military force in Syria, paving the way for a vote by the committee on Wednesday.

Among other provisions, the draft, which was obtained by Al Jazeera on Tuesday, sets a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with a possibility for a single 30-day extension subject to conditions.

The deal reached by Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican, includes a provision banning any use of US armed forces on the ground.

If the document is approved by the committee on Wednesday, it will then be sent to the full Senate for a vote after members return from their August recess on September 9.

Earlier, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel, the defence secretary, gave evidence to the committee, where they were pressed on the issue of ground troops.  

Kerry initially said it was important to leave options open for using troops in a scenario where "Syria imploded" and stockpiles of chemical weapons needed to be secured from extremists. 

When some senators objected, however, he said the administration had "zero intention" of putting troops on the ground and would work with Congress to ensure ground troops were not permitted with this resolution.

The draft requires Obama to consult Congress and submit to the Senate and House of Representatives foreign relations panel a strategy for negotiating a political settlement to the Syria conflict, including a review of all forms of assistance to the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

"Together we have pursued a course of action that gives the president the authority he needs to deploy force in response to the Assad regime's criminal use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, while assuring that the authorisation is narrow and focused, limited in time, and assures that the Armed Forces of the United States will not be deployed for combat operations in Syria," Menendez said in a statement.

 Al Jazeera speaks to former US ambassador to NATO

On Tuesday, in a crucial show of support for Obama, House speaker and a Republican in Congress, John Boehner, said that he would back the president's motion for strikes against Assad, and called on his party colleagues to do the same. 

His Republican colleague, house majority leader Eric Cantor, also supported Obama's call.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party's leader in the house, said she did not believe Congress would reject Obama's call, and that Assad's action was "behaviour outside the circle of civilised human behaviour and we must respond''.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Washington DC, however, Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO, said that while the Senate seems in agreement, Congress may be more divided. 

"Just because the two leaders of the parties of the House are onboard, it doesn't mean all the members will be, especially on the Republican side," Volker said.

"People are very much tuned to the wishes of their constituents in the House. We have seen in opinion polls today that 60 percent of Americans oppose such a strike."



Al Jazeera and agencies
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