A Senate panel has voted to give U.S. President Barack Obama the authority to use military force against Syria in response to what the White House claims was a deadly chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime.
The resolution passed by a 10 to 7 vote, aided by support of three Republicans, including Senator John McCain.
Earlier, McCain, an outspoken advocate of intervention in Syria, had said he did not support the resolution, saying he wanted more than cruise missile strikes and other limited action. He had also sought a stronger response aimed at "reversing the momentum on the battlefield" and hastening the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Some minor changes to the resolution were made.
The resolution would permit Obama to order a limited military mission against Syria, as long as it doesn't exceed 90 days and involves no American troops on the ground for combat operations.
The Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker, crafted the resolution.
The vote marked the first time lawmakers have voted to authorize military action since the October 2002 votes giving President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq.
The committee's vote is 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.
The administration also needs to persuade a Republican-dominated House of Representatives that has opposed almost everything on Obama's agenda since the party seized the majority more than three years ago. The top opposition Republican in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, has signalled key support, saying the U.S. has "enemies around the world that need to understand that we're
On the other side of the debate, Republican Senator Jim Inhofe 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."
Intervention could 'make the tragedy worse'
Republican Senator Rand Paul said U.S. involvement could well "make the tragedy worse" in Syria, but he predicted that advocates of military intervention would win in the Senate.
"The only chance of stopping what I consider to be bad policy would be in the House," he said.
Obama, asked in Sweden 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.
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"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.
Asked whether he would take action against Syria if he fails to get approval from Congress, the president said his request to lawmakers was not "an empty exercise." But he said that as commander in chief, "I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security."
Kerry, Hagel make case at House committee
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, were trying to make their case in a public hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Kerry said that when chemical weapons were used in Syria last spring, Obama did not have a "compelling" enough case to push for a U.S. military response.
Kerry also said U.S. intelligence can prove Assad has used chemical weapons at least 11 times, and said North Korea and Iran were watching the U.S. closely.
"The world is wondering whether the United States of America is going to consent with silence," Kerry said.