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US rally lawmakers' support on Syria vote

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-09-02 10:03

WASHINGTON - Senior US government officials on Sunday held a classified briefing on Syria with a group of high-ranking lawmakers in a bid to win their support in pending Congressional vote on authorizing a military strike.

The officials who briefed the lawmakers included Tony Blinken, White House deputy national security adviser; Robert Cardillo, deputy director of national intelligence; Wendy Sherman, undersecretary for political affairs; James Miller, undersecretary of defense for policy; and Kurt Tidd, director of operations for joint staff at the Pentagon, the newspaper Politico reported on its website.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra and several senators, including Democrats Tom Harkin, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, and Patrick Leahy, and Republican Senator Dan Coats, attended the briefing at the Capitol Hill.

The officials tried to convince the lawmakers on why the US government needs to respond to the Syrian crisis, in a push to garner more support to President Barack Obama's decision to launch a limited military strike on Syria.

Obama announced Saturday that he decided to take the action in order to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the Aug 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Syrian capital of Damascus, but adding that he would seek the authorization from Congress for the use of force.

Washington has held Assad government accountable for this attack, despite the denial by Damascus. The White House on Friday released an unclassified intelligence report, which concluded that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons multiple times during the last year, and that the gas attack on Aug 21 left at least 1,429 Syrians dead, among them 426 children.

The White House on Saturday sent Congress a draft resolution that authorizes a military strike against Syria in order to "deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential" for future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. It promised that the military action will be "limited" and will not involve sending US troops to Syria.

In another development, US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on all five major US TV news shows on Sunday morning to make the case of taking military action to enforce the international norm of banning the use of mass destruction weapons and to protect the interests of US partners and allies in the region, such as Israel and Turkey.

In what he called a "very important recent development," Kerry said hair and blood samples from first responders in East Damascus tested positive for sarin.

Rejecting the comparison with the faulty intelligence used by then Bush administration as pretext for invading Iraq in 2003, Kerry said "the case that I laid out the other day is growing stronger by the day."

US lawmakers will not be back from their summer recess until Sept 9. The Syria authorization bill is expected to go through the Democrat-dominated Senate. However, it remains unknown whether it can pass the Republican-controlled House.

Kerry said Sunday that he doesn't "contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no" on the planned military strike against Syria, because the "stakes are just really too high here."

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