WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- The United States made plans to send arms to Syrian rebels several weeks ago, Obama administration sources told The Washington Post.
This week's announcement shipments of rifles and ammunition would be funneled to the beleaguered rebels was based on new evidence the Syrian regime had gassed civilians; however, the Post said Saturday President Obama had ordered officials to start planning the supply operation in late April.
The internal debate boiled down to State Department diplomats who feared Syria -- and the entire Middle East -- was descending into chaos, and military officers and Obama political aids who were concerned about the complexity of the resupply mission and the ramifications of the U.S. involvement in another regional conflict.
Officials told the Post the CIA and other agencies had used the time well. Covert bases were established in Jordan and Turkey to handle the weapons transfers, and contacts were made with rebel leaders inside Syria.
"We have relationships today in Syria that we didn't have six months ago," Benjamin Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said during a White House briefing Friday. Rhodes assured reporters the supplies would be delivered "into the right hands."
The most-difficult task this weekend appeared to be in the lap of the State Department. Iran and Russia began taking a more-aggressive stance on preserving the regime of President Bashar Assad despite the new reports of chemical weapons being used against civilians.
The Post said the planned peace talks in Geneva this month were derailed by Assad's recent successes on the battlefield. Sources said the negotiations would likely not begin before fall.
In the meantime, the United States will be trying to work out a deal with Russia that will somehow lead the way to a negotiated settlement between Assad and the rebels. Sources told the Post the Obama administration preferred a deal that would preserve Syria's infrastructure and institutions rather than an outright overthrow of the government, which would create more chaos on the ground.