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Senate Draft Resolution Sets 60-Day Limit on Military Action in Syria

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up a revised authorization bill Wednesday for the use of force in Syria, Democratic sources told CNN.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 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.

Lawmakers' decision about whether to OK a limited military strike in Syria "will be among the most difficult any of us will be asked to make," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday in remarks kicking off a hearing on President Obama's request for congressional authorization.

"I voted against the war in Iraq and strongly support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan," Menendez said. "But today, I support the president's decision to use military force in the face of this horrific crime against humanity."

Mr. Obama's decision over the weekend to take his case for direct involvement in Syria's two-year-old conflict to Congress appeared as something of an about-face: Amid mounting evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, the White House previously had seemed on the cusp of ordering U.S. forces to launch a missile attack against the civil war-torn country.
The announcement also brought lawmakers back to Washington from their summer breaks almost a week early. Before heading off to Sweden and the G-20 Summit in Russia, the president Tuesday met with chairs and ranking members from key national security committees, and Tuesday's hearing will be followed Wednesday with another by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Witnesses Tuesday include Secretary of State John Kerry - who, before joining the administration, was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Vowing intelligence has shown that rebels fighting to overthrow Assad could not possibly have acquired the weapons or amassed the capacity to have carried out the chemical weapons attack, Kerry toward the top of his opening statement assured the United States has "scrubbed and rescrubbed the evidence" of Assad's actions. He invoked the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that inspired then-President Bush to enter Iraq in 2003.

"I remember Iraq; Secretary Hagel remembers Iraq; Gen. Dempsey, especially, remembers Iraq," Kerry said. "But Secretary Hagel and I and many of you sitting on the dais remember Iraq in a special way because we were here for that vote. We voted. And so we are especially sensitive, Chuck and I, to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence.

"...I repeat here again today that only the most willful desire to avoid reality can assert that this did not occur as described or that the regime did not do it," he went on. "It did happen. And the Assad regime did it."

Kerry, who agreed with Menendez the "world is watching" to see "whether, in a dangerous world, we can still make our government speak with one voice," also battled back the notion that the debate about engaging in Syria "is about President Obama's 'red line.'"

"This debate is about the world's red line, it's about humanity's red line. And it's a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw," he said. "This debate is also about Congress's own red line. You, the United States Congress, agreed to the chemical weapons convention.

"You, the United States Congress, passed the Syria Accountability Act, which says Syria's chemical weapons - quote, 'threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States,'" he continued. "You, the Congress, have spoken out about grave consequences if Assad in particular used chemical weapons."

Hagel reiterated that the United States is "not seeking to resolve the underlying conflict in Syria through direct military force. Instead, we are contemplating actions that are tailored to respond to the use of chemical weapons. A political solution created by the Syrian people is the only way to ultimately end the violence in Syria.

"...Gen. Dempsey and I," Hagel continued, "have assured the president that U.S. forces will be ready to act whenever the president gives the order."

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