WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria through air strikes on President Bashar al-Assad's forces, Senator John McCain said on Monday.

"The ultimate goal of air strikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad," McCain, a Republican, said in remarks prepared for delivery later on Monday in the Senate.

(Reporting By Susan Cornwell; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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