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U.S. seeks to make its case to top lawmakers for strike against Syria

  • Article by: JULIE PACE
  • Associated Press
  • August 29, 2013 - 11:49 PM

– President Obama faced resistance Thursday to plans for a possible military strike against Syria, with U.S. lawmakers demanding more proof that Bashar Assad’s government perpetrated a deadly chemical weapons attack.

Top U.S. officials spoke with certain lawmakers for more than 90 minutes in a teleconference Thursday evening to explain why they believe Assad’s government was the culprit in a suspected chemical attack last week. Lawmakers from both parties have been pressing Obama to provide a legal rationale for military action, to specify objectives and to lay out a firm case linking Assad to the attack.

Afterward, the House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, pointedly sided with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in urging the administration to do more to engage with Congress on the matter, even as she expressed “my appreciation for the measured, targeted and limited approach the president may be considering.”

She said she agreed with Boehner and other lawmakers who say the administration needs to consult more with “all members of Congress” — a reference to the limited circle briefed Thursday — and provide “additional transparency into the decisionmaking process.”

The high-level officials who spoke to the lawmakers offered more details of the suspected chemical attack and their firm conviction that the Syrian government was to blame — but little new evidence backing up that conviction. It remained to be seen whether any skeptics were swayed by the call, given the expectation in advance that officials would hold back classified information to protect intelligence sources and methods.

The officials told lawmakers 1,300 men, women and children died in the attack, said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. That’s a far higher death toll than has been reported; the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders says the attack outside Damascus killed 355.

“The main thing was that they have no doubt that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said. Even so, he said the officials did not provide much new evidence of that.

“They said they have [intercepted] some discussions and some indications from a high-level official,” he said, and that they possess intelligence showing material being moved in advance of the attack.

© 2014 Star Tribune