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September 5, 2013

Divided vote foreshadows Obama challenge on Syria

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel's deep divide over giving President Barack Obama the authority to use U.S. military force against Syria underscores the commander in chief's challenge in persuading skeptical lawmakers and wary allies to back greater intervention in an intractable civil war.

The administration was pressing ahead Thursday with its full-scale sales job, holding another round of closed-door meetings for members of Congress about its intelligence on Syria. On another continent, Obama was certain to face questions from world leaders when he arrives in St. Petersburg, Russia, for an economic summit.

The event's host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, stands as a reminder of resistance to U.S. pleas for Moscow to intervene with its ally Syria and President Bashar Assad.

Obama has called for military action after the administration blamed Assad for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that it says killed more than 1,400 civilians, including at least 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, and the Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels fighting to topple the government were to blame.

Responding to Obama's request, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to authorize the "limited and specified use" of the U.S. armed forces against Syria, backing a resolution that restricts military action to 90 days and bars American ground troops from combat.

Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken, picked up the sales pitch for the absent president Thursday, appearing on several morning news shows.

In an appearance on MSNBC, Blinken said he believes the American people will be more supportive of Obama's request once they see the Syrian situation as a separate and distinct problem as opposed to viewing it "in the prism of the last decade" of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is not open-ended. This is not boots on the ground. This is not Afghanistan. This is not Iraq. This is not even Libya," Blinken said.

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