Leahy: Obama inching closer to arming Syrian rebels

May 5, 2013 at 1:48 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- A top U.S. Senate Democrat said Sunday President Obama appears to be inching toward supplying Syrian rebels with weapons.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, on NBC News' "Meet the Press," pointed to Israeli airstrikes last week.

"I think the fact that they were able to go in there shows that perhaps the Russian-supplied air defense systems [in Syria] are not as good as were said," Leahy said. "Our problem in who to supply is that some of these groups are strong Islamists, al-Qaida and others. And we've seen, like in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere, the Islamists tend to get the upper hand if they get in there."

Besides humanitarian aid, Leahy said: "We've given anti-aircraft equipment to Turkey. And the idea of getting weapons in, if we know the right people to get them, my guess is we'll give them to them."

Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a veteran of the Iraq and Afghan wars, said: "Well, I hope that Senator Leahy is correct, that we are moving closer towards arming the reform-minded, pro-Western rebels. This is something that should have been done many months ago, something that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs [Marine Gen.] Martin Dempsey, [former] CIA Director David Patraeus all proposed last year, according to Wall Street Journal reporting, and the president refused to do."

Cotton said "you have the Al-Nusra front, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, which is on the ground, providing the best fighters, providing the most weapons, providing the most humanitarian assistance, radicalizing some elements of the opposition. So we have to arm the opposition. I think we also need to move towards imposing a no-fly zone so [the Bashar Assad regime] cannot continue to use helicopter gun ships against civilians, and so ... the refugees he's creating aren't destabilizing our allies like Jordan."

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