White House Moving Closer to Arming Syrian Rebels

Image: White House Moving Closer to Arming Syrian Rebels A rebel fighter from the al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade attends a training session at an undisclosed location near the al-Turkman mountains in Syria's northern Latakia province on April 24.

Wednesday, 01 May 2013 09:18 AM

By Lisa Barron

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As the conflict in Syria escalates, President Barack Obama is moving towards sending lethal weapons to the opposition and taking a more aggressive role in seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

Senior administration officials say the shipment of arms is increasingly likely but that the administration is still pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The president reportedly spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Assad’s top supporters, on Monday and will send Secretary of State John Kerry to Moscow soon. But the Post, citing unnamed administration officials, reported that Obama would likely make a final decision on sending lethal arms to the rebels before a scheduled meeting with Putin in June.

The president said at a news conference on Tuesday that proof the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people would mean that “there are some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would strongly consider.”

Although Obama emphasized the need to “make sure I’ve got the facts” before acting, officials told the Post he is ready to move towards a host of options ranging from “arming the opposition to boots on the ground.”

“We’re clearly on an upward trajectory. We’ve moved over to assistance that has a direct military purpose,” one senior official told the newspaper.

Although the administration has already provided intelligence and other non-lethal military assistance to the opposition, the rebels have repeatedly asked for antitank weapons and surface-to-air missiles.

According to at least one official, the Post reported, Obama has “not closed the door to other military actions,” although the deployment of U.S. troops, which recent polls found the American public opposes, is unlikely at this stage.

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