US Secretary of State John Kerry warned of dire consequences if the United States doesn't react forcefully to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as he and other top administration officials faced questions Tuesday from senators both sceptical and supportive of President Barack Obama's request to authorize the use of force, dpa reported.
Obama sent Kerry, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and argue in favour of a resolution submitted over the weekend asking Congress to authorize a military response.
"This is not the time for armchair isolationism," Kerry said. "This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter. Neither our country nor our conscience could afford the cost of silence."
Kerry reiterated the administration's confidence in its own intelligence gathering that an "unspeakable horror" occurred August 21 that killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 people.
The poison gas attack crossed not only a red line that Obama established more than a year ago, it crossed a red line that the world drew in a ban on chemical weapons through a UN convention.
He argued that failure to approve a military response would wreck US credibility, and that inaction would invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other countries that have chemical weapons, such as North Korea, to use them with impunity.
Hagel stressed that the United States needed to be concerned that terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which has forces in Syria supporting the Assad regime, would acquire them and would use them.
"That risk of chemical weapons proliferation poses a direct threat to our friends, our partners and to US personnel in the region," Hagel said.
Kerry assured members of the committee that the goal of Obama's resolution was limited and proportional and would not include sending US soldiers into Syria.
"This authorization is a limited, targeted effort to focus on deterring and degrading the chemical weapons capacity of the Assad regime," Kerry said.
He rejected comparisons to the war in Iraq, saying he however understood that the authorization given to the Bush administration to invade Iraq had left a lot of members of Congress "reeling" for some time. Evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq presented by the government was later proven to have no credibility. Several committee members said they supported a limited military response and some said the US should do even more. Others questioned the long-term goals, expressing concern about what would come after a strike. They also questioned whether US military action would be on firm legal grounds and whether the wording of Obama's resolution was too open-ended.
Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat, said the resolution is broader than what Kerry said the president's intentions were. He urged Kerry to change the wording of the resolution to make it "as tight as we can."
It should clearly state that "we in Congress are supporting your action but are not leaving open the door for the introduction of American troops into Syria."
Kerry said it would not be complicated to work out language that would satisfy Congress and the American people that "there's no door open" that would allow an escalation that Congress doesn't want.
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