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Kerry grilled in 2nd day of Syria testimony, claims inaction would embolden Assad

 

Secretary of State John Kerry faced a tense hearing room on Wednesday as he testified for the second consecutive day in support of a military strike in Syria, arguing once again that inaction would embolden America's enemies. 

Kerry claimed that if Congress does not approve a strike on Syria, Bashar al-Assad will "read our silence" as a signal that he can use chemical weapons "with impunity." He reiterated his message that "the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting." In an early endorsement of the administration's policy, a key Senate panel approved a use-of-force resolution later in the day. 

But Kerry's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee showed that getting any measure through the House could be a tougher lift. The secretary, as well as the nation's top military leaders, faced skeptical questions and some heated accusations from Democrats and Republicans alike. 

Perhaps the most contentious was questioning by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who claimed "there are no good guys to get behind here" and a military strike could only lead to "escalation." 

Duncan further accused the administration of trying to distract from other controversies like the Benghazi terror attack and the scandal over IRS targeting of conservative groups. 

Kerry shot back: "I am not going to sit here and be told by you I don't have a sense of judgment on this." 

Kerry also revealed Wednesday that Bashar al-Assad's Arab enemies have offered to pay the United States a "significant" sum to launch strikes on the Syrian regime. 

"Some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we've done it previously in other places, they'll carry that cost," he said. "That's how dedicated they are to this." 

Kerry said that kind of scenario is "not in the cards," though did not rule out accepting some money from Syria's Arab neighbors to cover costs of a military action. He said the offers have been "quite significant -- I mean very significant." 

Meanwhile, Obama, during a stopover in Sweden en route to the G20 conference in Russia, argued that the credibility of the world is on the line. 

Asked about his own past comments drawing a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons, Obama said it was a line that had first been clearly drawn by countries around the world and by Congress, in ratifying a treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons. 

"That wasn't something I just kind of made up," he said. "I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it." 

Obama said that if the world fails to act, it will send a message that despots and authoritarian regimes "can continue to act with impunity." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.