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Top US Republican rivals back Obama on Syria

Senior Republican rivals of President Barack Obama have said they back his call to Congress to support military strikes against Syria's Assad regime. France says it will await Congress' vote and will not strike alone.

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd R) talks to bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington while discussing a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013. From L-R are: National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Obama, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

Obama Treffen mit Abgeordneten im Weißen Haus Militärschlag Syrien

Rival Republicans declared after bipartisan White House talks on Tuesday that they would support President Barack Obama's call for punitive military strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for its alleged used of chemical weapons.

Emerging from Washington's Cabinet room, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (pictured next to Obama) said: "I am going to support the president's call for action."

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he too intended "to vote to provide the president of the United States the option to use military force in Syria."

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Obama lobbies Congress for Syria strikes

Obama, who is seeking an affirmative vote when Congress returns from its summer recess next Monday, hosted Tuesday's talks with leaders of both parties represented in Congress, members of his cabinet as well as US defense and military chiefs.

Asked whether he is confident he would win Congress's backing, Obama replied: "I am." He added that his aim was to "degrade" the capabilities of Assad's forces.

Support too in Senate committee

Obama's remarks preceded a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria later Tuesday.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the US broadcaster CBS that he believed his panel would back Obama if the administration explained "the full case" for the use of force as well as what it sees as the end result.

"Not acting has huge consequences," Menendez said. "It sends a message" not just to Syria, he said, but also to Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups.

Obama delayed an apparent US military buildup in the region last Saturday after Britain's parliament voted "no" to Prime Minister David Cameron's bid for military action.

Hollande will await Congress

In Paris on Tuesday, while hosting Germany's head of state, President Joachim Gauck, French President Francois Hollande said he would await a decision from the US Congress and would not strike Assad's regime alone.

Hollande and Obama have been the two most outspoken world leaders on the need to respond to a suspected chemical weapons attack on August 21 near Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

"A large coalition must therefore be created on the international scale, with the United States - which will soon take its decision – [and] with Europe ... and Arab countries," Hollande said.

If the Congress voted no, he said, France "will take up its responsibilities by supporting the democratic opposition [in Syria] in such a way that a response is provided."

The French parliament will debate the Syria issue Wednesday, although France's constitution doesn't require such a vote on French military intervention until its lasts longer than four months.

The votes anticipated next week in the US House of Representatives and the Senate will take place after Obama ends an overseas trip to Europe, for which he sets out on late Tuesday. Obama is to arrive in Stockholm on Wednesday morning before traveling on to Russia's Baltic Sea city of St Petersburg for a G20 economic summit.

ipj/dr (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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