Monday, December 9, 2013
By Bradley Klapper and Julie Pace / The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In an impassioned appeal for support both at home and abroad, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the credibility of the international community and Congress is on the line in the debate over how to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
U.S. President Barack Obama fields questions during a press conference with the Swedish prime minister at the chancellery Rosenbad in Stockholm, Sweden, on Wednesday.
As Obama made his case overseas during a visit to Sweden, his appeal for military intervention ran into trouble on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed its public meeting and remained huddled in private after Sen. John McCain, an outspoken advocate of intervention, said he did not support the latest version of the Senate resolution to authorize military force. The Arizona Republican said he wants more than cruise missile strikes and other limited action. The committee's plan to vote on the resolution Wednesday was thrown into doubt.
On the other side of the Syria debate, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he was not persuaded to support military action, saying the military has been "decimated" by budget cuts and "we're just not in a position to take on any major confrontation." Inhofe spoke as he emerged from a closed-door briefing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that lasted more than two hours.
Obama, asked about his own past comments drawing a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons, said it was a line that had first been clearly drawn by countries around the world and by Congress, in ratifying a treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons.
"That wasn't something I just kind of made up," he said. "I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it."
Obama said that if the world fails to act, it will send a message that despots and authoritarian regimes "can continue to act with impunity."
"The moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing," he declared at a news conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
With Obama in Europe, the president's top national security aides were briefing legislators in a series of public and private hearings, hoping to advance their case for limited strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in retaliation for what the administration says was a deadly sarin gas attack by his forces outside Damascus last month.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's vote would be the first in a series as the president's request makes its way through Senate and House committees before coming before the two chambers for a final vote. But with some senators saying the resolution is too strong and others believing it too weak, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said a vote could be delayed.
After briefing the committee in private, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked whether it was too soon for a vote, and said: "You have to ask the gentlemen. We had a good meeting."
In an initial survey, the AP found 17 senators supporting or leaning in favor of the resolution approving a U.S. military response in Syria, and 14 against or leaning against it. There were 69 senators who either said they were undecided or whose views were unknown. Of those supporting or leaning in favor of the resolution, 13 were Democrats and four were Republicans. Those against or leaning against the resolution were 2 Democrats, 11 Republicans and one independent.
Sending a message to Congress from afar, Obama insisted there was far more than his own credibility at stake.
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