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Live coverage of the conflict in Syria, including the international response to the Aug. 21 2013 chemical attack. For our current live blog on Syria, go to: http://live.reuters.com/Event/The_battle_for_Syria

  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met this morning with the 10 non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, who have been grumbling privately about how the five permanent council members - aka the "P5" - have a monopoly on information related to Syria. The new president of the Security Council this month, Australian Ambassador Gary Francis Quinlan, spoke to reporters briefly after the meeting in Ban's office. Quinlan said he would provide more details at a later date. He said Syria would clearly be a topic of discussion.

    Meanwhile, the U.N. press office announced last night that samples taken by the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors at the site of the Aug. 21 alleged chemical attack in Syria were shipped from The Hague to European labs for analysis. According to U.N. officials, the labs are in Sweden and Finland. It's not clear how long the analysis will take.

    Ban will brief reporters at 1:00 p.m. EDT on Monday about Syria. And at 3:00 pm U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane, who returned to NY from Syria over the weekend, will brief the 37 countries that signed a British letter to Ban request an urgent U.N. investigation into the Aug. 21 incident. (Those 37 countries are mostly Western and Arab states.)

    Over the weekend Ban said repeatedly that he wanted chief chemical investigator Ake Sellstrom to expedite his investigation of the Aug. 21 incident as much as possible without jeopardizing the integrity of his results. It's still unclear how long it will take before Sellstrom is able to submit a report to Ban. Last week Ban told the P5 that it could take up to two weeks before the U.N. can say with certainty whether or not chemical weapons were used on Aug. 21 in an attack on suburbs of Damascus that the U.S. says killed over 1,400 people, many of them children.

    Of course, the U.N. investigation won't say who launched any chemical weapons, only whether such toxins were used...
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  • Video by POLITICO: Obama talks Syria before Congress meeting -- see full transcript here: www.politico.com

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  • Reuters Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal report: John Boehner, Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Tuesday he would support President Barack Obama's call for military action in Syria and urged his colleagues in Congress to do the same. Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Obama at the White House, Boehner said the United States had to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and show allies that America would stand up when necessary.
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  • .@NancyPelosi : "President Obama did not draw the red line. Humanity drew it decades ago." She supports attack on Syria.
  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweets: "I intend to vote to provide the President of the United States the option to use military force in Syria."

    Cantor released the following statement on Syria and the regional conflict following his meeting with President Obama at the White House:

    “Beyond the obvious regional interests, a failure to adequately respond to the use of chemical weapons and compel the end of this conflict on terms beneficial to America and our partners only increases the likelihood of future WMD use by the regime, transfer to Hizballah, or acquisition by Al Qaeda. No one wants to be asking why we failed to act if the next time Sarin is used it is in the Paris or New York subway. ...

    “The United States’ broader policy goal, as articulated by the President, is that Assad should go, and President Obama's redline is consistent with that goal and with the goal of deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction. It is the type of redline virtually any American President would draw. Now America's credibility is on the line. A failure to act when acting is in America's interests and when a red line has been so clearly crossed will only weaken our ability to use diplomacy, economic pressure, and other non-lethal tools to remove Assad and deter Iran and other aggressors.

    “There are no easy solutions and a one-off military strike is not by itself an adequate strategy, but I am convinced that the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of a limited intervention. And a well-designed and well executed strike that both deters the use of chemical weapons and diminishes the capacity of the Assad regime can contribute to the achievement of a clear and attainable goal: the ultimate displacement of the Assad regime by moderate elements within the opposition. That is why it is imperative that the Administration continue to identify and support those moderate elements who are battling both Assad and Al Qaeda.

    “Should the Commander-in-Chief decide to use military force, I hope he will do so judiciously and with close and continuing consultation with the Congress."

    Read the full statement.
    by GOPLeader via twitter edited by Margarita Noriega (Reuters) 9/3/2013 3:35:58 PM
  • Bashar Assad's Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism, is epitome of a rogue state, and has long posed a direct threat to American interests.

    — Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) September 3, 2013

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  • Pres. Obama is right: debate & authorization by Congress will make our country & response in Syria stronger. http://t.co/Kc8YC0jJAr

    — Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) August 31, 2013

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  • Reuters Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal report: Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said on Tuesday she believes Congress will support a resolution authorizing the use of U.S. military force against Syria. Pelosi attended a meeting with President Barack Obama and congressional leaders at the White House. She told reporters after the meeting that the United States had to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
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  • Here is the official transcript of statement made by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 3, 2013.

    The Washington Post has a first-draft (not confirmed or finalized) transcript of Secretary Kerry's live remarks today.
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  • "President Obama is not asking America to go to war... He is asking for authorization to degrade and deter (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad's capacity to use chemical weapons." - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday


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  • Corker, the top Republican on the committee, told Kerry he did not feel that Kerry had given an appropriate answer when asked about the possibility of American "boots on the ground" in Syria.

    Kerry -- who must feel strange being a witness in the hearing room he usually entered as chairman -- listened to Corker's comments with a slightly clenched jaw and his hands were pressed together. He then responded: "I don't want anything coming out of this hearing that leaves any door open to any possibility ... (T)here will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war."
    by deborah.charles edited by Margarita Noriega (Reuters) 9/3/2013 7:47:22 PM
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  • Thanks to reader Jason for asking whether the senators will vote today. There will not be a final vote -- this is a meeting of the 18 senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, not the full Senate voting body, following the usual Senate process of vetting in committee before full debate and votes on the Senate floor.

    As Deborah Charles noted below, all 18 committee members returned a week early from Congress's summer recess to attend today (there will also be a top-secret, closed Syria hearing for the committee tomorrow). The full Congress is back in session a week from today, Monday the 10th, at which point Syria votes may be scheduled based on where the level of support lies after this week's debate (good Washington Post vote tracker here).

    Senate Majority Leader Reid said over the weekend that he plans a Senate vote on the Syria force authorization in Congress's first week back, where support currently seems stronger than in the House, though Reuters reported today that House Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor support the resolution.
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  • White House Video: President Obama statement before a meeting with members of Congress on Syria. September 3, 2013.

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  • READER COMMENT: There were 24,865 civilian deaths during the Iraq War that is still in many ways ongoing. How can we be so sure, when we talk of the horrible deaths that have happened due to chemical weaponry in Syria, that we will not kill even more innocent people through the effects of war than already have been killed by Syria's government?

    John Kerry cannot speak of the horrible things that have happened there in the same breath that he speaks of initiating war. It will destroy much more than just the Syrian government's ability to use chemical weapons.
    by Trevor Boley edited by Margarita Noriega (Reuters) 9/3/2013 8:00:04 PM
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  • There's a protestor that was not part of our party! Mentioned our dishonesty, talked about depleted uranium, white phosphorus #Syria

    — CODEPINK (@codepink) September 3, 2013

    (Hat tip to an anonymous reader for finding this tweet.)
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  • News reports and social media users have been picking apart Kerry's earlier remarks about not wanting to "take off the table" an option like using ground troops in Syria, which he almost immediately tried to tone down as a hypothetical he was positing to assert that the president should have all military options available.

    A few minutes ago, Kerry once again stressed that the resolution under consideration by the committee today contains no authorization for U.S. "boots on the ground" in Syria. Whatever the new degree of clarity and confidence, however, Kerry's need to repeat his stance on an issue as touchy as ground troops may frustrate the administration as it seeks to keep the drive for authorizing force focused and broadly palatable.
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  • by johntabin via twitter edited by Margarita Noriega (Reuters) 9/3/2013 8:47:44 PM
  • READER COMMENT [edited for formatting]: "The bulk of evidence proving the Assad regime's deployment of chemical weapons – which would provide legal grounds essential to justify any western military action – has been provided by Israeli military intelligence, the German magazine Focus has reported." www.theguardian.com.

    Remember all that Israeli intelligence leading up to the Iraq war that went through the office of special plans within the Pentagon; they lied and manipulated intelligence. How are we to believe this intelligence from the Israelis this time?
    by james edited by Margarita Noriega (Reuters) 9/3/2013 9:02:45 PM
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  • Senator Durbin (D-IL) presses Kerry on the need for precise language limiting the duration and degree of force in any resolution on Syria strikes. Durbin says that he stands by his vote against the preemptive war on Iraq in 2002 because of the protracted engagement there, and that while he believes he was right to vote to enter Afghanistan, he wishes he'd known at the time that he was voting for "the longest war in American history."
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  • Senator McCain (R-AZ) begins by acknowledging Teresa Heinz Kerry's presence in support of her husband, her first in public since her recent health problems, then apologizes "for what I'm about to do to John" in his line of questioning.
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  • SYRIA'S U.N. ENVOY: OBAMA IS "THE BULLY OF THE WORLD"

    Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari has been appearing in public today to defend his government against what he says are false allegations from the Obama administration about the Syrian authorities having attacked civilians with chemical weapons on Aug. 21. You may have seen him interviewed by CNN's Christiane Amanpour earlier today. Afterwords he spoke to reporters at the United Nations. At the U.N., he repeatedly denied that Assad's government has used chemical weapons.

    Speaking to a U.N. press gaggle, Ja'afari had sharp words for the U.S. administration after a closed-door meeting between U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane and the 37 U.N. member states that asked Ban to investigate the Aug. 21 poison gas attack. Here's some of what he said (essentially verbatim with a few parenthetical additions and deletions to make it all clearer):

    "Who appointed the American administration to anticipate ... the outcome and the final findings of the (U.N.) mission of investigation? How could the United States of America act unilaterally speaking from outside the context of the United Nations? Who asked Mr. Obama to be the bully of the world? Why not waiting until the investigative team, headed by Dr. (Ake) Sellstrom, has finalized and completed its mission?" (NOTE: Kerry said last week that the U.N. chemical investigators can't tell the U.S. anything it doesn't already know.)

    Ja'afari also raised media reports suggesting rebels launched the Aug. 21 chemical attack with the aid of Saudi Arabia. He urged the media to be objective and unbiased and not to allow itself to become a "new type of weapon of mass destruction."

    Ja'afari said any U.S attack "will kill innocent civilians the way they did it in Iraq in 1991 when they shelled the al-Amariyah civilian shelter and killed 500 kids and women."

    Ja'afari said more on the topic of the impact of any U.S. strikes on Syria: "President Obama speaks about not changing the regime. He said that it will not be Afghanistan. It will not be Iraq. Who guarantees the day after? Who guarantees what will happen the day after? And what does it mean sending a couple hundred cruise missiles and Tomahawk (missiles) over the heads of the Syrian people? Would Obama save or revenge the fate of dozens of Syrian kids by killing thousand of them? It doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense, neither politically nor militarily."
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  • In response to McCain's question about potential fallout should Congress reject the Syria resolution to use force, Kerry says that in addition to risks to the Syrian people of such a rejection, there would be a loss of credibility threatening U.S. leverage to address challenges throughout the Middle East, from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to unrest in Egypt. McCain adds that he thinks approving the wrong resolution from a military strategy standpoint could be just as damaging. Both men seem to agree on the need for well-defined but strong use of force.
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  • "I have never been told to change the momentum. I have been told to degrade capability," General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing on Tuesday 

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  • Senator Menendez says he seeks to have a Senate resolution on use of military force in Syria written by the end of Tuesday, and that the use of force in Syria would not be open-ended and would specify no U.S. troops on the ground in Syria. 
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  • Here's something some readers might find useful and/or interesting. It's an English-language summary of the French intelligence report on chemical weapons in Syria: www.franceonu.org
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  • Kerry says that he "guarantees" that if Congress does not pass the current resolution to use force in Syria, it will face an even more serious choice in the future because of that "message" that has been sent and the potential for Assad and other leaders with the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction to operate more boldly.

    Continuing to draw distinctions between Iraq and Syria, Kerry stresses the difference as he sees force in Syria here -- intelligence shows that chemical weapon WMDs not only exist, but they have been used against the Syrian people, multiple times.
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  • Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) challenges Kerry, saying that he believes the president has no authority to use force in Syria, while the administration says that it does. Paul then questions whether the authorization vote is a "joke" if the president believes he can still strike should it be rejected.
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  • Paul says that he hasn't heard one of his constituents over the August recess who's been in favor of striking Syria -- that people don't think it would be justified, or that it would even work (citing reports that disabling chemical weapons capacity or crippling Assad's forces would be difficult).

    Kerry responds that Israel is directly threatened by the Assad regime should the United States reject using force, and Paul questions whether a strike would increase the likelihood of attacks on Israel. Kerry steps back to his "guarantee" that Assad will use chemical weapons again if the U.S. does not act, and Paul responds that he thinks it's uncertain whether this is the case.
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  • The Washington Post has a photo that purports to show Senator McCain playing poker on his phone during the Syria hearing www.washingtonpost.com
    by KedarPavgi via twitter edited by Margarita Noriega (Reuters) 9/3/2013 10:02:22 PM
  • Reuters' Phil Stewart reports Russia may hike military assistance to Syria should the United States strike, the top U.S. military officer told Congress on Tuesday, adding, however, that was not a reason in his view to hesitate to act: 


    "There is some indication that they (the Russians) have assured the regime that if we destroy something, they can replace it," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff told a Senate hearing.
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  • On an unexpectedly active day in DC due to the Syria crisis, a week before the official end of recess, a few key storylines -- Kerry continuing to repeat his justifications for war (and backtracking on ground troops hypotheticals) to skepticism on both sides of a Senate panel, all while top Republicans throw support behind using force and the American people show increasing opposition.

    Our latest Reuters/Ipsos polling is worth keeping in mind as we look to the rest of the week and a drive for a full vote in Congress as soon as next week:

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  • Senate panel says first vote on Syria resolution likely on Wednesday

    WASHINGTON - Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hoped a Senate resolution on the use of U.S. military force in Syria would be written by the end of Tuesday, and it was likely the panel could vote on it on Wednesday.

    Menendez said during a hearing that committee leaders and staff were working on a text that would let President Barack Obama's administration pursue military action in Syria, but ensure that it is not an open-ended engagement "and specifically not with boots on the ground, American troops on the ground."

    Obama is asking Congress to back his call for limited U.S. strikes on Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.

    At the end of the 3-1/2 hour hearing on Syria, Menendez told the 18 committee members that a business meeting to vote on a text of the resolution was "likely" after a classified hearing with top administration officials on Wednesday morning.

    "It is likely that we could very well be in a business meeting sometime after the classified hearing tomorrow morning," Menendez said.

    (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Will Dunham)
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  • Reuters' Patricia Zengerle reports: The Washington Post published a picture of Senator John
    McCain, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee playing poker
    on his iPhone during a 3-1/2 hour hearing on the situation in Syria on Tuesday.

    The picture made its way onto Twitter, and went  viral, with hundreds of quick retweets – and criticism of McCain as “unserious.”

    The Arizona Republican, one of the most influential figures in U.S. foreign policy, took the incident in stride. He (or whoever handles his Twitter account) tweeted after the hearing “Scandal! Caught playing iPhone game at 3+ hour Senate hearing – worst of all I lost!” 

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  • Pro-Israel groups publicly back U.S. action in Syria

    WASHINGTON - Three influential pro-Israel groups urged U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday to authorize President Barack Obama to launch an attack on Syria, signaling a stepped-up lobbying effort for American military action.

    The statements by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) represented the groups' most public show of support for U.S. military action since the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus in which Syria's government is accused of using chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 people.

    During the past two weeks, the groups had been unusually quiet as the Obama administration sought to build a case for limited strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

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  • Cameron: Syria will use chemical weapons again without U.S. strike

    Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he believed the Syrian government would use chemical weapons against its own people again if the United States stepped back from taking military action against it.

    Read more
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  • Updated exclusive: Former Syrian defense minister breaks with Assad, senior opposition member says. Read here.
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  • LA Times: U.S. figure for casualties in Syria attack much higher than others www.latimes.com
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  • Guardian: Comparing the intelligence dossiers on the attack www.theguardian.com
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  • Putin presses US Congress over Syria, says Kerry lied

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the U.S. Congress had no right to approve the use of force against Syria without a decision from the U.N. Security Council, and that doing so would be an "act of aggression".

    He said "anything that is outside the U.N. Security Council is aggression, except self-defence. Now what Congress and the U.S. Senate are doing in essence is legitimising aggression. This is inadmissible in principle."

    Read on.
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  • French PM: not acting in Syria would send wrong message to Iran

    PARIS - France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Wednesday if there was no response to the chemical attack in Syria it risked sending Iran the wrong message on its nuclear program.

    "To not act would be to put in danger peace and security in the entire region. What credibility would our international commitments against non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons stand for?" Ayrault told a parliamentary debate on Syria.

    "What message would this send to other regimes, and I am thinking like you of Iran and North Korea? The message would be clear: You can continue." Iran rejects Western accusations that it is seeking to build the atomic bomb.

    (Reporting By John Irish; editing by Mark John)
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  • Polls released yesterday showed low levels of support for Syria intervention among Americans -- 19 percent in favor according to Reuters/Ipsos, 29 percent according to Pew -- which does not bode well for Obama's more immediate audience in Congress. Josh Kraushaar at National Journal throws cold water on the view that intervention support from top House Republicans Boehner and Cantor indicates a potential shift in Congress, where self-preservation often rules:
    For vote-counting purposes, the most important divide isn't between hawks and doves. It's between members in tough districts and safe seats. With military intervention unpopular, few at-risk members are sticking their necks out to support the president, even those from his own party. These members are acutely sensitive to public opinion, and self-survival is often more important than taking one for the team.

    This commentary in the Wall Street Journal sums up an alternative angle, those who see Obama utilizing growing Republican support as part of a historical and political tendency to largely forgo partisanship at the "water's edge," or on matters of war:
    Some of this is due to the GOP tradition that developed during the Cold War of deferring to presidential war powers and thus repudiating the party's pre-World War II isolationism. Another explanation is a general GOP tenet that the U.S. military is a source for good in the world. This is in contrast to the post-Vietnam Democrats, most of whom have sought to restrain presidential war powers and U.S. action overseas.

    The political irony is that if Mr. Obama's Syrian resolution passes next week, it will owe more to these GOP leaders, and to Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham, than it will to the President's own arguments or his overall credibility as Commander in Chief.

    This Reuters piece by Richard Cowan and Caren Bohan posits there may be more at play in any final Syria vote tally than traditional party lines -- and that this may too could bode ill for the president on authorization to use force. Cowan and Bohan report that a growing strain of libertarian and independent-minded lawmakers, including Iraq War veteran and freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), disagrees on intervention with their more experienced colleagues and may find unlikely allies who share their skepticism on Syria strikes:
    Many say it is too early to call the vote. But some early estimates of how members could line up point to a group of House liberal Democrats, including some Congressional Black Caucus members, leaning against the resolution and joining hands with their ideological opposites - conservative and libertarian Republicans who eagerly have defied their leaders' wishes on several major issues earlier this year.
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  • U.S. President Obama says the credibility of the U.S. and international community is on the line as he presses the case for military action in Syria. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

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