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Sen. Menendez To Preside Over Senate Debate Over Strike On Syria

Menendez Supports Strike As Consequence For Alleged Chemical Attack
Sen. Robert Menendez (file/credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Robert Menendez (file/credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was set beginning Tuesday to preside over a debate on the authorization of military force in Syria.

President Barack Obama announced Saturday that he would seek authorization from Congress for limited military action in Syria as a consequence for an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Assad government.

The White House then sent Congress a draft resolution authorizing force against Syria to “deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade” the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons. It doesn’t lay out a timeline for action or detail Obama’s strategy.

“I have spoken with Leader Reid and beginning this Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will debate the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Syria. Senior Administration witnesses will testify before the Committee and the Congress will debate this issue actively, fully, and publicly,” Menendez said in a statement.

Menendez himself is a backer of a strike on Syria.

“It is my view that the use of military force in Syria is justified and necessary given the Assad regime’s reprehensible use of chemical weapons and gross violation of international law,” he said in the statement. “I look forward to sharing these views with my colleagues in the days ahead as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convenes to take up this vital national security issue.”

Also Sunday, senior U.S. officials sought to lay out their case to divided lawmakers in a classified briefing as the countdown began to the biggest foreign policy vote since Congress authorized President George W. Bush to invade Iraq.

In a series of interviews on the Sunday news shows, Secretary of State John Kerry said the case for intervention in Syria’s 2 1/2-year civil war was strengthening each day and that he expected American lawmakers to recognize the need for action when the “credibility of the United States is on the line.”

He said President Barack Obama has the authority to launch retaliatory strikes with or without Congress’ approval, but Kerry stopped short of saying the president would do so if the House or Senate withholds support.

“The stakes are just really too high here,” Kerry said. “We are not going to lose this vote.”

Seeking to sharpen the argument for war, Kerry said the United States has received hair and blood samples from first responders indicating that Syria’s government forces used sarin in its Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs.

Washington has struggled to rally allies to its cause, however, with only France firmly on board among major military powers. Stalwart ally Britain cannot be counted on after Parliament rejected using force in a vote last week. That could be a harbinger of the difficult task ahead for the Obama administration as it seeks Congress’ approval for cruise missile strikes and other limited measures once lawmakers return from summer break, which is scheduled to end Sept. 9.

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