Arm Syrian rebels or risk rise of extremism: McCain



WASHINGTON- The United States must deepen its engagement in Syria by equipping the rebels or setting up a safe zone to protect the opposition, a top Republican senator demanded Thursday.
Failure to show US leadership risks seeing the Middle East descend into "extremism, and war, and despair," Senator John McCain said, speaking after visiting Syria last week to meet with rebel leaders.



Arm Syrian rebels or risk rise of extremism: McCain
"The Syrian state is disintegrating in much of the country, leaving vast ungoverned spaces that are being filled by extremists, many aligned with Al-Qaeda," McCain told the Brookings Institution think-tank.
"They are the best armed, best funded, and most experienced fighters. And every day this conflict grinds on, these extremists are marginalizing moderate leaders like the commanders I met last week."
The Free Syrian Army and its commanders seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad were in desperate need of "ammunition and weapons to counter Assad's tanks, artillery, and air power," he said.
While Washington has been the largest single donor of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and has been working to support a political transition, it has so far only agreed to provide non-lethal support to the rebels.
McCain has long argued for military aid to the Syrian opposition to tip the balance in the conflict now in its third year, and he stressed "we need the good guys to win."
"Put simply, the space for moderate politics is collapsing as the Middle East descends deeper into extremism and conflict," he said, warning the conflict in which 94,000 have been killed was spilling across Syria's borders.
"In short, if the Middle East descends into extremism, and war, and despair, no one should think America would be able to pivot away from those threats. Our national security interests will suffer. That is an inescapable reality."
And McCain argued that a deeper engagement by the administration of President Barack Obama did not imply thousands of American boots on the ground.
"We could use our stand-off weapons, such as cruise missiles, to target Assad's aircraft and ballistic missile launchers on the ground," McCain said.
"We could enable a provisional government to establish itself in a safe zone in Syria that we could help to protect with Patriot missiles. And we could organize a full-scale operation to train and equip Syrian opposition forces."
He was speaking as the State Department said it was evaluating evidence provided by France, which Paris says shows sarin gas was used in Syria.
Obama has said that any use of chemical weapons would be a red line in the conflict, and the US administration is under pressure to stand by its words.
McCain called for a more effective strategy to advance US interests in the Middle East, but said it was dependent on "the sustained, outspoken, and determined leadership of the President of the United States."
"That is what we need from him now more than ever. We need him to lead."
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Friday, June 7th 2013
AFP
           


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