U.S.Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are due to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee./
The U.S. secretaries of state and defense are to appear before a Senate panel as President Barack Obama seeks to secure congressional backing for his plans to respond with military action to last month’s alleged chemical-weapons attack in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are due to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Obama said on August 31 that he wanted the approval of the U.S. Congress for “limited” and “narrow” military action in response to the August 21 poison-gas attack near Damascus that the United States says was carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
France on September 2 released an intelligence report that also blamed Assad’s regime for last month’s attack.
Assad has warned that military strikes against Syria risk setting off a wider conflict in the Middle East.
A senior State Department official said Kerry will argue on September 3 that failing to act in Syria “unravels the deterrent impact” of international norms banning chemical-weapons use.
Kerry is also expected to warn that inaction would endanger Washington’s friends and partners in the region, while emboldening Assad and his key allies, Lebanon’s Shi’ite militant group Hizballah and Iran.
France Blames Assad Regime
France has said the alleged chemical attack near Damascus last month could have only been carried out by the Syrian government.
A French intelligence report said the assault on August 21 involved a “massive use of chemical agents.”
It said that at least 281 deaths can be attributed to the attack.
The report was presented to parliament on September 2 by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who said, however, that France would take action only as part of an international coalition.
“There is no question of France acting alone. The president of the republic is working on persuading and bringing together a coalition as quickly as possible,” Ayrault said.
“France has to get on board with this objective because France defends the principle of respecting international law.”
France has emerged as the main U.S. ally in the Syria crisis after the British Parliament last week rejected involvement in any military action.
Russia, which along with China has blocked UN Security Council resolutions against Assad, said on September 2 it remained totally unconvinced the attack was carried out by Assad’s forces.
China has warned of the risks of unilateral military action, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying on September 3.
“China supports the United Nations conducting an independent, fair, objective, and professional investigation,” Hong said.
“What actions the international community should take next should be determined by the results of the investigation, which should clarify whether or not someone used chemical weapons in Syria, and who used the chemical weapons. The results should be the premise and precondition for any action taken by the international community for the next step.”
McCain Urges Action
In Washington, Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) told reporters at the White House that Obama must make a strong case for attacking Assad’s Syria if he wanted to win congressional backing for the operation.
He also warned of “catastrophic” consequences if Congress voted “no” to attacking Syria.
“If the Congress were to reject a resolution like this after the president of the United States has already committed to action, the consequences would be catastrophic in that the credibility of this country with friends and adversaries alike would be shredded and it would be not only have implications for this presidency but for future presidencies as well.” McCain said after talks on September 2 at the White House with Obama.
Obama has put off any intervention until Congress, which is in recess until September 9, has a chance to vote on the matter.