US lifts hurdles on arming Syrian rebels


Wed, Jul 24, 2013 - Page 7

US President Barack Obama will move forward with a plan for Washington to arm the struggling Syrian rebels after some congressional concerns were eased, officials said on Monday.

“We believe we are in a position that the administration can move forward,” US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said.

The White House announced last month that it would offer military aid to vetted groups of Syrian rebels after two years of balking at directly sending arms to the opposition.

“We have been working with [the US] Congress to overcome some of the concerns that they initially had and we believe that those concerns have been addressed and that we will now be able to proceed,” a source familiar with the administration’s thinking said on condition of anonymity.

Yet both Republicans and Democrats on the house and US Senate intelligence committees had expressed worries that the arms could end up in the hands of Islamist militants in Syria like the jihadist al-Nusra Front, and would not be enough to tip the balance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Part of the logjam was broken on July 12 when members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who had questioned the wisdom of arming the insurgents decided behind closed doors to tentatively agree that the administration could go ahead with its plans, but sought updates as the covert effort proceeded.

Now, the house committee has also given at least a cautious go-ahead to the operation.

“It is important to note that there are still strong reservations,” Rogers said. “We got a consensus that we could move forward with what the administration’s plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations.”

The source familiar with the administration’s thinking said: “The committees were persuaded and we will be able to move forward.”

The timeline was unclear, but supporters of the rebels hope the deliveries of US-provided arms will start next month.

Committee sessions on arming the rebels are classified and have been held in secret. Senior government figures like US Secretary of State John Kerry have briefed lawmakers behind closed doors to persuade them to back the White House’s Syria strategy.

Rogers said he still had “very strong concerns” about the plan’s chances of success.

“Arms do not make peace,” UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Washington. “We would like to see the delivery of arms stopped to all sides.”

He said the US and Russia both agreed there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict “even if they are delivering weapons in the hope their side is going to win.”

Brahimi said it was possible to find a political solution by bringing together the warring sides for a peace conference in Geneva.