In a private meeting at the White House on Monday with Sen. John McCain, President Obama said he plans to give Syrian rebels more advanced weapons, according to McCain. If this happens, it would mark an expansion of Obama’s latest Syria strategy of possibly mounting a military response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham met with Obama to discuss the plan, which, as currently outlined by the White House, involves a limited mission to punish the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, as the Syrian president did most recently on August 21, and deter future assaults. Administration officials have made clear that “regime change” is not an objective of the mission. But Obama’s new arming strategy would certainly help the rebels, whose goal is removal of the Assad regime. The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.
“He said that he was willing to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army,” McCain said in an interview with The Daily Beast, referring to the largest of the rebel groups. “This was a shift in the president’s thought and actions from before.”
McCain and Graham have said they want to know the president’s broader strategy for the Syrian conflict before voting on the war authorization.
Obama didn’t say which weapons he would give the rebels, but McCain said the Free Syrian Army needs antiarmor and antiaircraft weapons to shift the momentum on the ground to its side. He said if the administration gives him enough specifics about the new arms pledges, he’ll vote to authorize military action.
“For the first time we have an outline of action that could lead to the removal of Bashar al-Assad,” McCain said. “I’m certainly willing to join in that effort, but I need to know a lot of the details.”
Previous weapons pledges by Obama to the Syrian rebels have not been honored, McCain said. In June the White House promised to increase its military assistance to the FSA in response to another set of chemical-weapons attacks that the U.S. intelligence community concluded had been perpetrated by the Syrian regime in March. But those weapons never arrived, so lawmakers need greater assurances this time around, McCain said.
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