WASHINGTON – Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday to make the case for action in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the world wants "to know if America will rise to this moment and make a difference."
"I will tell you there are some people hoping the United States Congress doesn’t vote for this very limited request the president has put before you. Iran is hoping you look the other way. Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test, Hezbollah is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day," he said.
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"They’re all listening for our silence. And if we don’t answer (Syrian President Bashar) Assad today, we will erode a standard that has existed for those hundred years, in fact we will erode the standard that has protected our own troops in war. And we will invite even more dangerous tests down the road. Our allies and our partners are also counting on us in this situation. The people of Israel, of Jordan, of Turkey, each look next door and they see that they’re one stiff breeze away from the potential of being hurt, of their civilians being killed as a consequence of choices Assad might take in the absence of action. They anxiously await our assurance that our word means something. They await the assurance that if the children lined up in unbloodied burial shrouds were their own children, we would keep the world’s promise. That’s what they’re hoping.
"So the authorization that President Obama seeks is definitively in our national security interests. We need to send to Syria and the world to dictators and terrorists, allies and to civilians alike, the unmistakable message, that when the United States of America and the world say, "never again," we don’t mean sometimes, we don’t mean somewhere. Never means never," Kerry said.
The US' top diplomat told the committee that President Bashar Assad crossed a line "that anyone with a conscience should draw" by using chemical weapons on Syrians.
At the first public hearing in Congress on potential military action in Syria, Kerry said "it would be preferable" not to preclude the use of ground troops to preserve President Barack Obama's options if there was a potential threat of chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremists.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
"I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The circumstances where troops should be used could be "in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else, and it was clearly in the interests of our allies and all of us - the British, the French and others - to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements," he said.
Al-Nusra is an al-Qaeda affiliated group that operates in Syria.
Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel were addressing lawmakers as part of the administration's effort to persuade Congress to back Obama's plan to launch limited strikes on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons last month.
One of the leading hawks on Syria in Obama's cabinet, Kerry assured lawmakers it would be easy to word a resolution on military force to reassure Congress and the public "there's no door open here through which someone can march in ways that the Congress doesn't want it to, while still protecting the national security interests of the country."
Kerry and Hagel told the committee that any military operation would be limited and specifically designed to degrade President Assad's chemical weapons capability.
Hagel added that a failure to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons would damage US national security interests and American credibility.
"A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments - including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," he said. "The word of the United States must mean something."
As Kerry and Hagel pressed their case for limited military strikes in Syria, Obama won support for action from two top Republicans in the House of Representatives - Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
"Only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated," Boehner told reporters. "I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action."
Significant opposition remains in Congress, where many lawmakers, including Obama's fellow Democrats, have said they are concerned the president's draft resolution could be too open-ended and allow possible use of ground troops or eventual attacks on other countries.
The resolution authorizes Obama to use military force as necessary to "prevent or deter the use or proliferation" to or from Syria of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.
Obama said on Saturday he would seek lawmakers' approval for a possible military strike, slowing what had appeared to be plans for a swift action. Polls show strong public opposition to US action.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed Obama has failed to convince most Americans of the need for a military strike in Syria. Some 56% of those surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria, while only 19% favored action, the online poll found.
Meanwhile, America's biggest pro-Israel groups are throwing their weight behind President Barack Obama's plan for US military intervention in Syria.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, said Tuesday that congressional authorization for strikes against Assad's regime would ensure that what it called "barbarism on a mass scale" does not go unanswered.
In a statement it said military action would send a message to Assad's supporters -- Iran and Hezbollah -- that US won't tolerate use of weapons of mass destruction.
The Anti-Defamation League also supports Obama.
Its statement cited "significant national security interests" at stake and said the US has a moral imperative to act.
AIPAC wields significant influence in Congress, which is expected to vote on authorizing use of force against Syria.
Reuters, AP contributed to the report
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