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Syria Crisis: U.S. Weighs Diplomatic, Military Options

While the U.S. pursues a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis by sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with his Russian counterpart in Geneva, Switzerland, it has also started arming the rebels.

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It’s supposed to be a summit about the global economy, but the debate over possible military strikes against Syria will likely overshadow the G-20 conference this week.

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President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2009 at his dacha outside Moscow. (Credit: Pete Souza / White House)

The summit in Russia will pit two leaders with polar opposite views on Syria — U.S. President Barack Obama, who wants to launch limited military strikes against the Syrian regime, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country stands by its longtime ally in the Middle East.

The views of the 18 other countries at the G-20 run the gamut — but could be influenced by whatever happens in St. Petersburg.

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President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the world set a red line against chemical weapons use that he now seeks to apply to Syria, while a Senate committee approved a resolution authorizing the U.S. military attack that he is planning.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey testified on Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

By a 10-7 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the resolution that authorizes a limited military response, giving Obama an initial victory in his push to win congressional approval.

The measure now goes to the full Senate for debate next week. The Democratic-led chamber is expected to pass it, but the outcome is less clear in the Republican-led House where top diplomatic and military officials made their case on Wednesday for action.

In Sweden on the first of a three-day overseas trip that includes the G-20 summit in Russia, Obama told reporters that the red line he spoke of last year regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons came from international treaties and past congressional action, rather than something he “made up.”

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MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has not ruled out backing a U.S.-led military operation in Syria if the Kremlin gets concrete proof than an alleged chemical attack on civilians was committed by Bashar Assad’s government.

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Vladimir Putin (credit: gov.ru)

“I don’t rule this out,” Putin said during a televised interview with First Channel, a Russian federal television network, and the Associated Press. “But I want to draw your attention to one absolutely principled issue: in accordance with the current international law, a sanction to use arms against a sovereign state can be given only by the U.N. Security Council.”

The Obama administration is engaged in a lobbying effort to convince Congress to back a U.S. strike on Syria without U.N. approval. Late Tuesday, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on language authorizing U.S. military action against Syria, while ruling out the commitment of U.S. ground forces and limiting the window for an attack to 90 days. A committee vote could come as early as Wednesday.

Putin’s interview was recorded Tuesday at his country residence of Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow, the official Kremlin website that posted it Wednesday morning said.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey testified on Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up a revised authorization bill Wednesday for the use of force in Syria, Democratic sources told CNN. The bill limits the authorization to 60 days, with an option for an additional 30-day deadline, and makes clear there would be no boots on the ground, the sources said.

Top U.S. officials faced tough questions from senators about plans for military strikes Tuesday as House leaders lined up behind President Barack Obama’s call to punish Syria for an August poison gas attack near Damascus.

Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the Obama administration lobbied for Congress to authorize military action against Syria. From the outset, Kerry addressed the shadow of claims offered in the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, reassuring committee members that the intelligence linking Syrian government forces to the August 21 attack was solid.

“We are especially sensitive, Chuck and I, to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence,” said Kerry, who like Hagel, voted as a senator to authorize the Iraq invasion. “And that is why our intelligence community has scrubbed and re-scrubbed the evidence. We have declassified unprecedented amounts of information, and we ask the American people and the rest of the world to judge that information.”

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U.S. plans for strikes against Syria may be coupled with increased support for rebel forces in that country’s civil war, two leading Republican senators said after meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday.

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President Barack Obama on Monday met with with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in the Oval Office to discuss Syria. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice is at left. (Credit: Pete Souza / White House)

Obama met in the Oval Office with Sens. John McCain, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the White House said. After the meeting, McCain and Graham said the United States needs to help the rebels reverse battlefield gains by troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We still have significant concerns, but we believe there is in formulation a strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army and to degrade the capabilities of Bashar al-Assad,” said McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The United States and several of its leading allies accuse al-Assad’s forces of resorting to poison gas attacks against rebel forces and civilians, including an August 21 attack near Damascus the Obama administration says killed more than 1,400 people. Obama said Saturday that the use of chemical weapons is “a challenge to the world” that threatens U.S. allies in the region — but he said he would seek the authorization of Congress before unleashing American force.

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LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — In an impromptu news conference at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday evening, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) said that although she was convinced chemical weapons had been used in Syria, she was not willing to vote in favor of U.S. military intervention.

“Nothing today moved me closer to yes,” Hahn said, standing in a baggage claim area at LAX. The Democratic Congresswoman had just returned from Washington, where she and approximately 100 other lawmakers met with top Obama administration officials for a classified briefing on Syria.

Many of those lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — left the session skeptical and with major concerns about the language in President Barack Obama’s proposal.

“I was convinced that chemical weapons had been used. That’s what I came away completely convinced [of],” Hahn said. “Who ordered that attack? Not so sure. And, again, I’m still not convinced that this is a war we need to engage in right now.”

 CNN contributed to this report.

(CNN) – Blood and hair samples from eastern Damascus, Syria, have “tested positive for signatures of sarin” gas, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday, arguing that with “each day that goes by, this case is even stronger.”

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John Kerry

Kerry said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the U.S. obtained the samples “independently” through an “appropriate chain of custody,” giving no indication the results came from the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors.

“We know that the regime ordered this attack, we know they prepared for it,” Kerry said. “We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards. We’ve seen the horrific scenes all over the social media, and we have evidence of it in other ways, and we know that the regime tried to cover up afterwards, so the case is really an overwhelming case.”

Read more at CNN.com.

WASHINGTON (KTLA) – President Obama spoke to the nation Saturday from the White House on the worsening situation in Syria.

Striking a defiant note, he insisted the U.S. was prepared to take action against the Syrian government.

“Ten days ago, the world watched in horror as men, women and children were massacred in Syria in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century,” the President said.

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President Obama spoke Saturday from the Rose Garden

“In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.

“Now after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” Mr. Obama added.

With Vice President Joe Biden by his side, the President went on to describe the alleged chemical weapons attack as “an assault on human dignity.”

Then he said the U.S. was ready to take action.

“Our military has positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose,” the President said.

Mr. Obama also said he would seek authorization from Congress before launching a military strike.

“Over the last several days, we have heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree.

“This morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session,” the President said.

You can read the full transcript of his speech here.

WASHINGTON – Declaring himself “war-weary” but determined to hold Syria accountable for using banned chemical weapons, President Barack Obama said Friday he was considering a limited response to what U.S. intelligence assessed with “high confidence” as a Syrian attack that killed more than 1,400 people.

filephoto Barack Obama Presser 8-9-13

File photo of President Obama at a news conference

Obama told reporters he had yet to make a final decision, but hinted at a military strike that sources and experts say would entail cruise missiles fired from U.S. naval ships at Syrian command targets — but not any chemical weapons stockpiles.

“It is not in the national security interests of the United States to ignore clear violations” of what he called an “international norm” banning the use of chemical weapons, Obama said at a meeting with visiting heads of Baltic nations Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

He called the Syrian attack a “challenge to the world” that threatens U.S. allies Israel, Turkey and Jordan while increasing the risk of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

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