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Lawmakers Talking Tougher on Syria, While Warning Obama to Consult Congress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Republicans and Democrats appeared to rally behind President Barack Obama on Wednesday, echoing his warning that Syria’s use of chemical weapons against anti-government insurgents would be a “game-changer” requiring a more aggressive policy toward that country.

But Speaker John A. Boehner and senators in both parties made it clear that they want the White House to consult with Congress before taking action in Syria, particularly if it involves U.S. military intervention.

The lawmakers’ remarks came as Obama told a news conference in Jerusalem earlier Wednesday that if reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria proved accurate, such a development would change U.S. policy and require action from the international community. But Obama, who has said in the past that Syria’s use of such weapons in the ongoing civil war would cross a red line, stressed that the United States and other nations were still trying to confirm the reports.

Idaho Republican Jim Risch, a member of Senate Intelligence Committee, said he expected to learn whether chemical weapons were used in Syria in short order.

“If the government has used chemical weapons and there is very clear proof of that, there’s going to be a lot of people believing that our strategy is going to have to change to some degree,” he said.

Asked what sort of policy changes to expect, he said: “At that point, almost everything is on the table for discussion.”

Some suggested the next steps could include U.S. military intervention to gain control of Syria’s chemical weapons stores.

Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said that the use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, “changes the whole dynamic” of U.S. policy toward Syria. Up to now, Washington has sent only humanitarian and non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.

“First we would need to ensure there are no more chemical weapons available to be used,” Corker said.” So we would need to learn how gain control over those compounds.” Asked if that could involve some form of U.S. military action, he said that was for the president and the military to decide.

“But the president has said it’s a red line, and it flies in the face of American sensibilities that a government would use weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons against his own people,” he said.

The focus on a possible change in U.S. policy toward Syria comes as a result of a report by Syria’s state-run SANA news agency on Tuesday that said “a missile containing a chemical substance” was fired at a village by “terrorists” — the term it uses for rebels. The Syrian opposition denied the charge, accusing the government of using chemical weapons.

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