Middle East

Obama confident Congress will vote to strike Syria

Published: 4:01 AM, September 4, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, September 5, 2013

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said yesterday he was confident that Congress would vote in favour of American military action in Syria, and said the United States had a broader plan to help rebels defeat President Bashar Al Assad’s forces.

During a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, Mr Obama called for a prompt vote and vowed that any strike by the US will be limited and “proportional”, and will not involve US ground troops. He indicated that he is open to changes in the resolution authorising force to respond to concerns of lawmakers.

“This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan,” Mr Obama said at the White House.

The President spoke just before a meeting with congressional leaders from both parties and top lawmakers on the main committees dealing with national security issues. The session is part of a campaign to persuade lawmakers that the US needs to apply military force in response to the Syrian government’s use of sarin gas against civilians last month.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to hold its first hearing on Mr Obama’s request for congressional authorisation to take military action against Syria, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying.

On Monday, Mr Obama won the tentative support of one of his most hawkish Republican critics, Senator John McCain, who said he supported a “limited” strike if the President did more to arm the Syrian opposition. In a meeting at the White House, Mr McCain said Mr Obama gave support to doing more for the Syrian rebels, although no specifics were discussed.

In the same conversation, which also included Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, another fierce Obama critic, officials said the President indicated a covert effort by the US to train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: The first 50-man cell of fighters, which have been trained by the CIA, was beginning to sneak into Syria.

There appeared to be broad agreement with the President, Mr McCain and Ms Graham said, that any attack on Syria should be to “degrade” the Syrian government’s delivery systems — which could include aircraft and artillery and the kind of rockets that the Obama administration said were used by Mr Assad’s forces to carry out the sarin attack in the Damascus suburbs that killed more than 1,400 people.

Meanwhile, the United Nations reported that more than two million refugees have now fled Syria’s civil war .

“Syria has become the great tragedy of this century — a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a news conference in Geneva.

“The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees.” AGENCIES