Will Obama reconsider arming Syrian rebels? This week could be key.
President Obama has long been loath to arm Syrian rebels, worried that the weapons could fall into extremists' hands. But with the rebels faltering, he could reconsider.
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While that concern has not waned, some US foreign policy analysts say it has been eclipsed by worries that Assad’s ability to hang on to power would constitute a considerable and dangerous victory for Iran. That is all the more true since much of Assad's momentum has come with the aid of as many as 5,000 Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters, not to mention Iran’s continuing material aid.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Echoes of Syria's war
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Opponents of arming the rebels say such an action would doom a recent effort by Secretary of State John Kerry to convince Russia, a key Assad ally, to join the US in sponsoring a Syria peace conference. Skeptics of the peace conference plan note that the conference, originally set for May and now envisioned for July, may never get off the ground
In the meantime, they add, Assad is making crucial gains across the country.
In a letter to Obama this week, Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, urged the president to provide lethal assistance to moderate factions among the rebels. This, he said, would deal a blow not just to Assad, but also to the “radical Islamist groups” among the rebels that threaten to gain the upper hand.
“Acting now and offering lethal aid directly to our allies in the opposition will shift momentum away from radical Islamist groups, the Assad regime and its militias toward more moderate elements and could help alter the balance of power on the ground at a time when negotiations over a political settlement have stalled,” Senator Corker wrote.
Secretary Kerry, who had been scheduled to travel to the Middle East this week, canceled his trip in order to take part in the White House discussions on Syria. As a senator before taking his current job, Kerry spoke out in favor of arming the rebels.
More recently, Kerry has put considerable effort into coaxing his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, into backing the idea of a peace conference, to be jointly sponsored by the United Nations, the US, and Russia, and which would aim for a political solution to the Syrian war.
The two powers have agreed on the idea of holding a conference, but disagreements over the fate of Assad have put off setting details such as a conference date. Rebel groups insist that a deadline be set for Assad’s departure from power, while Assad has said that any conference on Syria should not be held based on any preconditions.
Assad has said he plans to run for another term in office next year.