U.S. lawmakers on key national security committees rushed back to Washington to start hearings on Tuesday on President Obama's plan to strike Syrian government targets following allegations that nerve gas attacks late last month killed more than 1,400 people in outlying Damascus neighborhoods held by enemies of Bashar Assad's regime, the New York Times reported.
President Obama on Tuesday morning voiced a firm belief that Congress would ultimately back a measure permitting the use of armed force against Syria, the Associated Press reported. He told reporters during a meeting with congressional leaders that he could accept legislative alterations to his proposed language for allowing an attack.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to receive testimony on Tuesday from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Times reported. Five senior White House national security officials on Monday spoke with 127 House Democrats in a single telephone exchange, and a bipartisan group of 83 legislators took part in a closed-door meeting on Sunday.
“The debate is shifting away from ‘Did [Assad] use chemical weapons?’ to ‘What should be done about it?'” Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House intelligence committee, told the Times after Monday's session.
"The United States will not go it alone," Kerry reportedly said in the telephone exchange, addressing concerns that a potential U.S. military move against Syria would lack adequate backing from other governments.
Majority and minority leaders from the defense, foreign relations and intelligence panels of both chambers could meet on Tuesday with Obama at the White House in response to an invitation from the president.
Meanwhile, an initial team of 50 CIA-backed rebel operatives has begun moving into Syrian territory, Obama reportedly said in a meeting with Republican Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Still, a fear of inadvertently arming extremist opposition elements has continued to hold off U.S. weapons deliveries initially authorized for resistance forces in June, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice is expected to further discuss the Obama administration's Syria planning with McCain and Graham, the lawmakers told the Times.
Elsewhere, a Western-backed Syrian rebel group on Tuesday said a medical specialist has entered Turkey with records linking Assad's regime to an alleged March 19 chemical strike in the village of Khan al-Assal near Aleppo, Reuters reported. Assad's government and the resistance have each blamed the other side for the incident.