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Mikulski convinced by evidence but undecided on strikes

WASHINGTON -- The dean of Maryland's congressional delegation emerged from a classified briefing Thursday persuaded that Syrian leader Bashar Assad was responsible for last month's chemical weapons attack but undecided on whether a U.S. military strike is the best response.

"What we heard today made a compelling forensic case, one, that nerve gas was used and, No. 2, that it was used by the Assad regime," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

But the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said she has more questions about the military response and is wary of involving the U.S. in a protracted conflict. Mikulski voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002. She said Thursday that the case against Assad is stronger.

"In briefings like this, I was convinced that there was no compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. I was right about that. I do believe that today there was compelling evidence presented that [Assad] did use nerve gas against his own people. Now, the next question is what is the best way to deter him from ever using that again," she said. 

 In a statement Thursday, Rep. John Sarbanes encapsulated the problem many lawmakers have in firmly declaring, one way or the other, whether they will support a resolution authorizing the strikes. At least in the House, it's not yet clear exactly what the language of a resolution will look like.

Sarbanes said the use of chemical weapons "demands a forceful and unequivocal response" and said he finds "persuasive the president's arguments that a strike is warranted in order to give teeth to the international ban on chemical weapons and in order to demonstrate American resolve in the Middle East."

But the Baltimore County Democrat added that doesn't necessarily mean he'll support a resolution.

"I share the conviction of many of my colleagues that any strike be limited in time and scope and otherwise designed to minimize the risk of drawing the United States into a broader military engagement," he said. "Those are the standards I will use in determining my support for any resolution that members of the House of Representatives are asked to vote upon."

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