Menendez: keep military action on the table

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., discusses the the crisis in Syria during a TV news interview prior to leading a hearing today with Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. Some lawmakers are returning a week early from recess for the first public hearing about U.S. plans for military intervention to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad as President Obama seeks to convince skeptical Americans and their representatives about the need to respond to last month's alleged sarin gas attack outside Damascus. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez -- a critical voice in the debate on Syria -- said Tuesday night that military options should remain on the table even as President Obama explores diplomatic options with Russia.

"The diplomatic door has opened ever so slightly and while I have doubts about this 11th hour offer, it would be wrong to slam the door shut without due consideration," said Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "A negotiated solution to a crisis is always preferable and if this possibility is legitimate, I’ll give it serious thought. At the same time, the credible use of military force is necessary to keep on the table."

Menendez said the international talks, and Syria's openness to turning over its chemical weapons, as Russia has proposed, came as a result of the threat of military action. He has been a vocal supporter of military action and sponsored the resolution to allow the use of force (though overall support in Congress is faint).

"Should diplomacy fail, an authorization of force will send an unequivocal message to the Assad regime and other international actors that the use of chemical weapons will be met with a military response to prevent their use and proliferation," Menendez said.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey, are working on a plan that would allow for military strikes if diplomatic talks fail, though any authorization of force still faces difficult odds in Congress.

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