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POLITICS: PennAve

Members of Congress press for military action against Syria

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Fox News,Syria,PennAve,Sean Lengell,John McCain,Lindsey Graham,Bob Corker,Chemical Weapons

Members of Congress on Sunday stepped up the drumbeat for a U.S. military response to the Syria government's reported use of chemical weapons on its own citizens as violence escalates in that country.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the situation in the Middle East country demands immediate response, warning the U.S. “cannot sit still.”

“We have to move, and we have to move quickly,” Engel said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think we can act, I think we should act with humanitarian purposes, and I think we should act because it's in our national interest to act.”

The Obama administration has cautioned against a hasty U.S. military response in Syria without the help of its allies, and Engel stopped short of calling for unilateral U.S. action, saying, “I think we have to respond in conjunction with our NATO allies.”

The lawmaker suggested cruise missile strikes could be used “without [U.S.] boots on the ground, without having Americans in harm's way.”

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said on "Fox News Sunday" that cruise missiles could be deployed in a “very surgical" way to take out strategic targets in Syria.

“There are numbers of things that we can do, both from the ships that we have based right off the [Syrian] coast, and there are other kinds of things we can do from counties nearby,” he said.

While a U.S. response to the Syrian conflict may be warranted before Congress returns to Washington early next month, Corker said he believes President Obama will ask the body for authorization.

“Congress has had a pass on these kinds of activities for a long time, and I think it’s time for us to take a step up and take responsibilities here too,” he said.

“At the same time, I hope it’s not the kind of action that moves us away from the policy we have right now where we see the Syrian opposition group taking the lead on the ground … We need to tilt the balance a little bit more as it relates to [aiding] the opposition group on the ground.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN's "State of the Union" program Sunday that the "cost of inaction now is too high" for the U.S. if it's confirmed the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people.

"I think it's very important that this be a strong international coalition,"said Schiff in regards to any intervention in Syria. "But I also agree with those who have said, we can't wait on the United Nations to act."

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina issued a joint statement calling for immediate “limited military actions in Syria” by the U.S. and its allies to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table.

“The United States has sat on the sidelines for too long as the conflict in Syria that has taken the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians ” the senators said. “The conflict is now becoming a regional one that directly threatens some of America’s closest friends and allies in the Middle East.”

McCain and Graham added that further delay accelerates the risk that the Syrian military’s “vast caches of chemical weapons” could fall into the hands of forces hostile to the United States and its allies.

“It is not in our national security interest for this conflict to grind on, as some suggest,” the pair said. “The longer the conflict in Syria goes on, the worse and worse it gets and the more it spreads throughout the region.”

Meanwhile, Syria has agreed to allow U.N. inspectors access to sites near Damascus where the reported chemical attacks occurred last week, the Syria Foreign Ministry said in a statement broadcast on state television.

Hundreds of people were poisoned to death last week in Syria in what appears to have been the world’s worst chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein’s forces gased thousands of Iraqi Kurdish villagers in 1988. Syria has denied that it was to blame.

The United States now has little doubt the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians last week, and President Obama is studying how to respond, a senior official in the U.S. administration said on Sunday.

“Based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts, and other facts gathered by open sources, the U.S. intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident,” the official told Reuters news service.

The official made clear the Syrian government’s agreement to let U.N. inspectors visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack was inadequate.

“At this juncture, any belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team would be considered too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling and other intentional actions over the last five days,” the official said.

A wire service report was used for this article.

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Sean Lengell

Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner