WASHINGTON — A key US Senate panel unanimously approved a resolution Thursday strongly condemning Syria's "brutal and unjustifiable" use of force against civilians, and called for a review of legal options to hold regime officials accountable.
The measure also expresses "strong disappointment" over Russia and China's veto earlier this month of a UN Security Council resolution that would have censured Damascus for its deadly crackdown on dissent.
The Senate resolution urges the international community "to review the legal processes available to hold officials of the government of Syria accountable for crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights."
But Democratic Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, acknowledged the resolution had been softened because some members felt the original language went too far. He said it was "a powerful first step," nevertheless.
Republican Senator Bob Corker expressed concern the original resolution could be used to authorize US military action against Syria, likening it to a Senate resolution that he said was invoked by the administration as backing the US intervention in Libya.
Corker said the language in the earlier version of the resolution "clearly allowed the administration to go to war with Syria."
Kerry rejected that interpretation of the earlier draft, assuring the committee "there is no backdoor agenda here."
But he said the avenues Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might have used to resolve the crisis were "evaporating."
"I don't know any one who is now talking about a government with Assad in power in the future," he said. "However, everybody understands that this is potentially complicated, long, bloody, difficult, absent a change of heart."
Senator Richard Lugar, an influential Republican on foreign policy, said the United States lacked a clear understanding of the nature of the Syrian opposition, and noted that the regime had a credible military, significant air defenses and possible chemical and biological warfare capabilities.
"This is being considered almost entirely in a humanitarian context, and that is important," he said, but noting that the consequences of removing Assad from power "are hardly foreseeable."
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