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    Two Top US Senators: Obama Plan for Syria Emerging

    Two key U.S. senators say the Obama administration is putting together a solid plan to boost the Syrian opposition and help drive Bashar al-Assad from power.

    Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- two supporters of strong action against Syria -- met with President Barack Obama at the White House Monday.

    McCain later said he has reason to believe that any U.S. military strike against Syria would be more serious than cosmetic. He said the civil war in Syria is engulfing the entire region and turning Iraq into a breeding ground for al-Qaida.

    Graham said there can never be a political solution in Syria as long as Mr. Assad's forces are winning.

    Both senators criticized the Obama administration for not acting sooner in Syria by arming the rebels. They said the Syrian army has been getting weapons from Russia and Iran for two years, making it an unfair fight.



    Mr. Obama has said he wants congressional approval before launching a military strike on Syria for allegedly dropping chemical weapons on civilians. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins hearings Tuesday on what to do in Syria.

    In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, Syrian President Assad called the chemical weapons charge illogical. He said the U.S. and France -- which also backs military action against Syria -- have no proof. Mr. Assad also warned that a military strike by the U.S. or France could start a regional war.

    Russia, a long-time Syrian ally, questions the credibility of U.S. evidence that the Assad government used chemical weapons on civilians.

    Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency says much more money is needed to help the ever-growing number of Syrians forced to flee the fighting. The UNHCR says it has received only about $70 million of the $250 million it needs to help the refugees.

    OPTIONAL SOUNDBITES:

    Tarik Kurdi, UNHCR Representative in Damascus :

    "According to the estimations of the United Nations there are about 7 million people affected by the crisis, of those about 5 million have been displaced from their cities and villages to somewhere else inside Syria. The majority of them are women and children."

    NATO'S SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:

    "It is my firm position that the international community should react in such a situation, otherwise we would send the very dangerous signal to dictators all over the world that they can use chemical weapons without any reaction from the international community.''

    RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV (in Russian ):

    "If the action announced by the U.S. president, to our great disappointment, does take place, then I think, regardless of all words about the Geneva 2, it will delay any prospects for such a forum for a long time, if not forever.''

    ARAB LEAGUE SECRETARY GENERAL, NABIL ELARABY (in Arabic):
    "I cannot say that there are two viewpoints (within Arab states), however I can say that there is a general opinion represented by 18 countries, in which what is needed is to take deterring measures against those who committed this crime (using chemical weapons).''

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