US President Barack Obama's request for congressional approval for strikes against Syria cleared the first hurdle on Wednesday with passage in the senate's foreign relations committee.
The resolution passed by the committee authorises "limited" strikes to "degrade" and "deter" Syria in 60 days, extendable by another 30, with no boots on the ground. Though regime change is not the aim of approval sought by the Obama administration, the resolution says "change of momentum on the battlefield" is the policy of the US.
This was included at the insistence of Republican senator John McCain, who has been an advocate of a larger US intervention, ending in Bashar al-Assad's overthrow.
The US has charged the Syrian government with killing 1,429 people in multiple attacks using chemical weapons — Sarin (that causes breathing difficulty, fatally if untreated) - on August 21.
The Obama administration has specifically and persistently clarified regime change was not among its aims for the strike. Punishing Syria for using chemical weapons is its sole objective.
The passage was illustrative of the divisions in both parties on the issue. Two Democrats voted against it, and three Republican voted for it, breaking with their colleagues.
The resolution will now move to the full 100-member senate for debate, amendments and vote. A similar process is under way in House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, NATO's chief says a US strike on Syria would not require deeper NATO involvement because it would be a limited operation. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the use of chemical weapons demanded an urgent answer from the international community.