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Obama pushes for action on Syria; Congress divided

world Updated: Aug 31, 2013 08:18 IST

As US President Barack Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry, pushed for unilateral action against the Assad regime in Syria, differences emerged among lawmakers on the approach the United States should take to hold the regime accountable for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Powerful senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that the US should not undertake a kinetic strike before the UN inspectors complete their work.

"The impact of such a strike would be weakened if it does not have the participation and support of a large number of nations, including Arab nations," Levin said, asking the administration to send a powerful message to the Assad regime by immediately getting lethal aid to vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.

"Doing so can change the balance militarily and also contribute to a political solution in Syria," Levin said, after Obama on Friday said that he was looking for a "limited narrow act" against the Assad regime.

"We are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria, but others around the world, understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban and norm," Obama has said.

Two influential senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, batted for the hard US action against Assad regime.

"The purpose of military action in Syria should not be to help the president save face. It should not be merely cosmetic. Instead, the goal of a military action should be to shift the balance of power on the battlefield against Assad and his forces," the two senators said in a joint statement.

"The United States, together with our friends and allies, should take out Assad's air power, ballistic missiles, command and control, and other significant military targets, and we should dramatically increase our efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian opposition forces. This can be done in a limited way, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women in uniform," they said.

"We urge President Obama to delay no further in taking military action in Syria that could finally change the momentum of this awful and destructive conflict," McCain and Graham said.

"Unfortunately, it does not appear that the response to this historic atrocity being contemplated by the Obama administration will be equal to the gravity of the crime itself and the US national security interests at stake in Syria," they added.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein agreed with Kerry that the world cannot let such a heinous attack pass without a meaningful response.

"I hope the international community will take appropriate action," she said.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives speaker John Boehner said he was keeping open the option of reconvening the House to deal with Syria.

"The Speaker hasn't ruled it out," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told The Hill.

The House is scheduled to convene on September 9.

Congressman Scott Rigell urged Barack Obama to call Congress into session and follow the British example to have a prompt debate and vote on whether to attack Syria.

"This beautiful Capitol is empty largely and yet a vigorous debate took place in Parliament in Britain.

"I find it ironic given the history of our two countries that here we have the president operating - and I say this understanding the seriousness of it - it is not the King's army. He must come before Congress," Rigell told the MSNBC news channel.