The foreign relations committee of the US Senate has approved a resolution authorising the use of force against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
The committee on Wednesday approved a resolution 10-7, with one senator voting “present”. The vote by the panel clears the way for a vote on the resolution in the full Senate, likely next week.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington D.C., said the approval was a boost for the US president, Barack Obama, as he sought to gain congressional approval for the use of force.
However, she added that the vote was delayed by about two hours, suggesting some disagreements. The full Senate vote could also prove problematic, she added, with John McCain, a leading Republican, saying he could not vote for the resolution as it stood as it did not go far enough.
McCain ealier said he wanted more than cruise missile strikes and other limited action, seeking a stronger response aimed at “reversing the momentum on the battlefield” and hastening Assad’s departure.
The Democratic chairman of the committee, Bob Menendez, and the panel’s top Republican, Bob Corker, drafted the resolution, which was significantly different to that which was tabled by the president.
It would allow Obama to order a limited military mission against Syria, as long as it does not exceed 90 days and involves no US troops on the ground for combat operations.
Obama had asked the US Congress to sanction his plan to launch military strikes against Assad in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb on August 21.
Assad has denied responsibility for the attack, instead pinning the blame on rebels fighting to topple him.
The US says the attack left over 1,400 people dead while aid groups said more than 300 were killed.
House panel divided
The vote came after a more divided foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives heard evidence from the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, and secretary of state John Kerry.
Republican Congressman Ed Royce, the panel’s chairman, chided Obama for drawing “a red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons long before bringing the debate on the use of military force in Syria to Congress.
“Over a year ago President Obama drew, in his words, a red line, yet only last week did the administration begin to consult with Congress on what that means,” said Royce.
On the other hand, Congressman Eliot Engel, the ranking democratic member of the panel, firmly backed the Obama plan.
“I strongly agree with President Obama that the United States must respond to this flagrant violation of
international law with a limited military strike to deter the further use of chemical weapons and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use them again,” said Engel.
Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out that the “red line” against chemical weapons was drawn by international law in 1925 – echoing comments made earlier by the president in Sweden.
“This is about the world’s red line, it’s about humanity’s red line, a line that anyone with a conscience should draw and a line that was drawn nearly a hundred years ago in 1925 when the chemical weapons convention was agreed on,” said Kerry.