VIDEO

Top Republicans warn no Syria vote would be 'catastrophic'

US Senator Lindsey Graham (right), makes remarks to the media as US Senator John McCain (left), listens, after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, on possible military action against Syria, in Washington Sept 2, 2013. &n
US Senator Lindsey Graham (right), makes remarks to the media as US Senator John McCain (left), listens, after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, on possible military action against Syria, in Washington Sept 2, 2013.  Two top Republicans warned on Monday of catastrophic consequences if Congress votes against striking Syria and suggested the White House may be mulling a more robust military intervention. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Two top Republicans warned on Monday of catastrophic consequences if Congress votes against striking Syria and suggested the White House may be mulling a more robust military intervention.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Republican hawks who have long advocated deeper US involvement in Syria's civil war, met President Barack Obama as part of his efforts to sell US lawmakers on military action.

Mr McCain emerged from the meeting with a stern warning for fellow Republicans who may be considering voting against military action purely to damage the Democratic president.

"A vote against that resolution by Congress I think would be catastrophic," said Mr McCain.

"It would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of the United States. None of us want that." Mr Graham, who is facing a tough primary fight from his right for the Republican Senate nomination in South Carolina, warned of the wider consequences of a failure to back military action.

"I can't sell another Iraq or Afghanistan, because I don't want to," Mr Graham said.

"(What) I can sell to the people of South Carolina (is) that if we don't get Syria right, Iran is surely going to take the signals that we don't care about the nuclear programme.

"It weighs on the president's mind strongly about the signals we send," Mr Graham said.

The two senators also offered what appeared to be indications of evolving administration thinking about its Syria policy.

Mr Obama has stressed that any US action, expected to include cruise missiles, would be "limited" and "narrow." But Mr McCain suggested that more US muscle than expected might be deployed.

"We have been given some reason to believe that very serious strikes may take place as opposed to cosmetic," Mr McCain said.

"We now need to see a lot of the details." The plan could be intended to degrade President Bashar al-Assad's capabilities and upgrade those of vetted opposition groups, Mr McCain suggested.

Mr Graham indicated that the administration, which resisted arming Syrian rebels for months, may be prepared to build on a nascent plan to provide military support to some rebels announced after a previous, small scale chemical weapons attack.

"There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition," Mr Graham said, saying regional players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan should play a key role.