April 28 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration doesn’t need to be sure that Syria’s leader has used chemical weapons against his own people before establishing a no-fly zone and arming rebel forces, U.S. Senator John McCain said.
The atrocities already committed by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad are justification enough for such action, which is needed to contain a conflict that is spilling over into other Mideast countries, McCain, an Arizona Republican, said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Assad’s use of chemical weapons “should not be the gauge,” said McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee. “Unless we change the balance of power, there is a danger that this stalemate could go on for months and months.”
Debate over Syria was given new impetus by the administration’s disclosure on April 25 that intelligence agencies assess with “varying degrees of confidence” that Assad’s regime has used chemical munitions on a small scale in two instances. President Barack Obama has never said what action he would take if Syria crossed what he’s called a “red line” against the use of toxic agents.
If Assad decides to retreat to an Alawite enclave, an even longer period of conflict could ensue, McCain said on NBC.
Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, whose religion is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while Syria’s insurgents are predominantly Sunni.
A no-fly zone might not be easy to implement over “very sophisticated” Syria, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
On the same program, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and the committee’s chairman, said that some action needs to be taken because Obama’s so-called red line cannot be “a dotted line.”
Classified information strengthens the case that a small amount of chemical weapons have been in use, Rogers said. “If you have a larger use, the refugee and humanitarian crisis that comes from that is huge.”
Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said today on “Fox News Sunday” that his nation isn’t pressing the U.S. to take any action against Syria.
Oren said Israel had it its own “red line” for taking action, and said his nation “will react” if the Syrian regime seeks to transfer chemical weapons to terrorists, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Secretary of State John Kerry held a classified briefing with senators on April 25 on developments in Syria. At a similar briefing for House members the next day, Kerry gave no indication about when, or if, the U.S. will act on the chemical weapons finding, according to Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said the Obama administration is working harder than Americans realize “trying to figure out what we can do surgically without making the problems worse.”
“Russia is very important here,” McCaskill said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” “We’ve got to bring them around. Assad is leaning on Russia.”
Obama said on April 26 that the U.S. will seek confirmation along with the United Nations that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons. He said that confirmation would be a “game-changer” for the U.S.
“There are a range of questions around how, when, where these weapons may have been used,” Obama said before meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House. “All of us - - not just in the United States, but around the world -- recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations.”
In the Syrian government’s first response to the U.S. findings, Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said “the fabricated and false” allegations “do not have any credibility,” according to the official Sana news agency. The regime has said that chemical weapons have been used by terrorists, its blanket description for the opposition.
Until now, the administration has provided non-lethal aid, such as communications equipment, and humanitarian supplies to the rebels. Kerry announced that the U.S. is providing an additional $123 million to the Syrian opposition, a doubling of aid, while some Persian Gulf nations send arms as well as money.
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