Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said on Monday that the Syrian situation was a regional conflict — and President Bashar al-Assad warned that his country would retaliate if France participated in any military strike on his forces.
"This is a regional conflict," McCain said outside the White House after he and Graham met with President Barack Obama. "This is not a conflict that is just confined to Syria.
"Lebanon is destabilized," the Arizona senator added. "Jordan is badly destabilized. Iraq has turned into a breeding place for al-Qaida and Islamic extremists.
"We have to understand that, not only is there the threat of this conflict spreading, but there's the Iranian issue — with their pursuit of nuclear weapons — that would be directly affected by our actions in Syria."
McCain and Graham, of South Carolina, met with Obama as the White House stepped up its efforts to seek Congressional support for a military strike against Assad for his use of chemical weapons in the civil war that has lasted more than two years.
Both senators sit on the Armed Services Committee.
Obama and French President Francois Hollande have said that they have proof that Assad's forces used sarin gas in attacks on the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. More than 1,400 people were killed, the White House said, many of them children.
The Syrian government denies the allegations, blaming opposition fighters.
"If the policies of the French state are hostile to the Syrian people, the state will be their enemy," Assad told the French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview published on Monday. "There will be repercussions, negative ones obviously, on French interests.
"Those who make accusations must show evidence," Assad added. "We have challenged the United States and France to come up with a single piece of proof. Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing so."
France has backed the Syrian rebels since the civil war began. It fears that the violence may spill into Lebanon, where about 20,000 French citizens live, many French companies operate and where France has an 800-strong contingent of U.N. peacekeepers.
And on Monday, senior members of Hollande's ruling party rebuffed opposition calls for a parliamentary vote to approve any attack.
"This act cannot be left without a response," French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said. "It's not for France to act alone. The president is continuing his work of persuasion to bring together a coalition."
Meanwhile, Graham said of the session with Obama: "There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition, to get the regional players more involved.
"Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan — a lot of the Gulf Arab states — have been helping quietly," he added. "Now is the time to get out front and be more overt.
"When it comes to financing these operations, the people in the region need to carry the lion's share of the financial cost," Graham said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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