DAMASCUS - US President Barack Obama cleared the first hurdle Wednesday in his race to win domestic congressional backing for strikes to punish Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.
Bashar al-Assad's defiant regime vowed to retaliate against any US action, but the White House won the support of a key Senate panel for its plan for a limited military response.
Secretary of State John Kerry also said that Washington had recruited other nations to its cause, promising that allies in the region would support American and French strikes.
The US Congress could vote as early as next week to authorise action, but the threat has done nothing to calm the chaos on the ground, and refugees continue to flee Syria.
The UN refugee agency and four states which have taken in hundreds of thousands issued a plea for the international community to end the "cycle of horror."
As Obama's big hitters lobbied Congress in Washington, the president used an appearance during a visit to Sweden to rally global support - and to deny he is isolated.
"I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line," Obama said, referring to international rules banning the use of chemical weapons, even in wartime.
"My credibility is not on the line," Obama said. "The international community's credibility is on the line and America and Congress' credibility is on the line."