Casey in talks on alternative Syria plan

UPDATED: WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is among a handful of Senators working to support an alternative plan that could avert the push for a military strike in Syria, if the government there turns over its chemical weapons.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and sponsor of the resolution to authorize a strike, is also close to the talks, though he said "many, many questions" remain about the idea.

Casey, who has been a vocal supporter of President Obama’s plan to fire missiles into Syria, is involved in talks to avoid that outcome, and provide another route for the president, who is struggling in his bid for Congressional authorization for his planned attack.

The new plan, first proposed by Russia, would call for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to the United Nations. A group of senators are now working to adopt that idea and perhaps push it through Congress. The senators' proposal would authorize a military strike if Syria does not do so within a set time frame.

Casey has a long-standing interest in Syria and was one of the earliest supporters of a military strike.

"Even Syria's very acquisition of chemical weapons threatens our national security," he said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon. "Syria not only acquired them but has now used them multiple times on their own people."

Until this summer Casey chaired the subcommittee that oversaw U.S. affairs in the region including Syria. He left the Foreign Relations committee for a post on the finance committee, but has remained interested in the region, and has been talking to Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) for several weeks about the roiling civil war there.

The new talks, according to the Associated Press, include Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Saxby Chambliss and Democrats Chris Coons (of Delaware), Chuck Schumer, Carl Levin and Casey.

Menendez, a Democrat, has also strongly supported the use of military force in Syria. He said Tuesday he is "looking at the seriousness" of the Russian proposal and wanted to ensure that missile strikes could still be possible if Syria fails to turn over its chemical weapons.

"The only reason the Russians have come to this point is because they saw that we were on a march to the use of force," Menendez said.

A spokeswoman later said Menendez is "fully engaged" in discussions but "there are obviously many, many questions about the Russia proposal that must be answered."

The move toward an alternative comes as Obama looks increasingly likely to lose a vote for Congressional authorization to attack.

U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, a Delaware County Republican, became the latest House member to firmly say he would vote against the strike Tuesday morning.

“It is not clear how intervening in Syria’s civil war, absent an imminent threat to the United States, best serves our national interests. Rather, its plans have the potential to open a Pandora's box of regional conflict that imperils America’s critical allies, particularly Israel,” Meehan said in a news release. “Under these circumstances, I cannot support the President's request for Congressional authorization of an attack on Syria.”

Meehan last week indicated was leaning strongly against voting for the strike. In fact, none of the House members from Philadelphia and its suburbs in Pennsylvania and South Jersey have voiced support for Obama on this issue. Many have said they are undecided.

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