US lawmakers agree to hit Syria; French debate today news
04 September 2013

The United States on Tuesday moved closer to military action in Syria as lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement on strikes against that country, which however precludes the use of troops on the ground.

The French Parliament will hold a debate today on backing such intervention against the Bashar al-Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons on suspected rebels earlier this month.

The plan, arrived at by the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, was unveiled after Secretary of State John Kerry, defence secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen Martin Dempsey answered questions of a congressional panel for three and a half hours.

The hearing by the Senate foreign relations committee, which Kerry used to chair, covered a range of issues about the proposed US military response raised by legislators and people across the country. Here are five things we learned from it:

Democrat Robert Menendez, chairman of the panel, said he and Bob Corker, its ranking member, believe the plan "reflects the will and concerns of Democrats and Republicans alike."

The proposal, announced following the hearing, would give Obama "the authority he needs to deploy force" while assuring that any action would be "narrow and focused, limited in time," and assures that "the armed forces" would not be used for combat operations in Syria.

The bill limits the authorisation to 60 days, with an option for an additional 30-day deadline.

Menendez said he would hold a committee meeting today to consider the proposal.

The dramatic developments came as the UN refugee agency released grim new statistics revealing more than two million people had now fled the violence in Syria.

"This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to a slaughter. Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence," Kerry told the Senate committee.

He warned that other countries such as Iran and North Korea, under fire for its suspect nuclear programmes, were closely watching.

"They are listening for our silence," Kerry intoned, during a sometimes heated debate with his former Senate colleagues.

His words were echoed by defence secretary Chuck Hagel, who said a US refusal to act after Obama had clearly set chemical weapons use as a "red line" would undermine America's credibility abroad.

"The word of the United States must mean something. It is vital currency in foreign relations and international and allied commitments," Hagel stressed. Both men are due back at the Congress on Wednesday for a further slew of both public and classified briefings.

After British lawmakers voted down a bid to take any military action against the Syrian regime Washington is looking elsewhere to build an international coalition of the willing.

France will hold an emergency parliamentary debate on the Syria crisis today but Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has ruled out a vote.

French President Francois Hollande can order military action without parliamentary approval though some lawmakers have urged him to put the issue to a vote.

Nearly three quarters of French people want any potential military intervention in Syria to be put to a vote in parliament, according to a poll Tuesday.

Paris has urged its European Union partners to unite in response to the Syria crisis, as it was among the first to push for punitive military strikes against the regime.

"Europe must also unite on this issue. It will do so, each with its own responsibility. France will assume its own," Hollande said during a joint press conference with German counterpart Joachim Gauck.

"When a chemical massacre takes place, when the world is informed of it, when the evidence is delivered, when the guilty parties are known, then there must be an answer," Hollande added.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, warned that a western military strike could make things worse.

"We must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed," Ban said.

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US lawmakers agree to hit Syria; French debate today