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After Obama speech on Syria, LI lawmakers back diplomacy over strike

President Barack Obama gives a speech on Syrian

President Barack Obama gives a speech on Syrian intervention from the White House in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 10, 2013) Credit: Whitehouse.gov

Several members of Long Island's congressional delegation shared President Obama's sentiment Tuesday that the world should not tolerate the use of chemical weapons -- as the president believes Syria has done. But the lawmakers said they preferred to exhaust diplomatic channels before a punishing military strike.

"I agree with the president that the international community must not allow the use of weapons of mass destruction to go unanswered and that the ongoing diplomatic effort to disarm the Assad regime of chemical weapons should continue with our leadership," Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said.

And Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said: "A credible diplomatic solution at the United Nations is the best possible outcome for the United States and the world community. We must fully exhaust this developing opportunity before determining whether to authorize U.S. military action."

But Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he hoped the president would go ahead and strike Syria.

The legislators were responding to the 15-minute address that Obama delivered from the White House last night to make the case that the United States should do something to answer Syrian president Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons outside Damascus on Aug. 21.

While he insisted that the United States is "not the world's policeman," Obama said that a surgical strike in Syria would be an appropriate response.

He also said Syria's use of chemical weapons could embolden others to use them against the United States or its allies.

"What happened to those people, to those children, is a danger to our security," he said. "It is in the national security interest of the United States to respond to Assad's use of chemical weapons in a targeted military strike."Obama in his speech said he was asking for a delay of congressional approval of a strike while allowing a proposal put forth by Russia to require Syria to surrender its stockpile of chemical weapons to international control.

That process is playing out at the United Nations this week, where the Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution to be drafted by France.

"I believe the administration has an obligation to vet it [the Russian proposal]," said Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington). "If it is credible, there should be no military strike. If it isn't, we must degrade and deter further use of those weapons, without boots on the ground and in a limited, focused and swift way."

King said he supported the president's desire to strike, but that he was disappointed Obama did not place the complex situation into context.

"I thought he gave a good argument as to why we should take action but I don't think he addressed all the issues that are raised by the Russian involvement," he said, adding that Russia has not been a player in the Middle East for four decades.

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