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U.S. weighing whether to arm Syria rebels, ambassador says

November 29, 2012|By Doyle McManus
  • Robert Ford appears before a Senate committee hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to Syria.
Robert Ford appears before a Senate committee hearing on his nomination… (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty…)

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. ambassador to Syria on Thursday confirmed reports that the Obama administration is considering whether to provide arms to the rebels in that country, but suggested that no decision has been made.

"We believe a military solution is not the best way" to solve Syria's problems, Robert Ford told a conference on humanitarian aid. "Syria needs a political solution. … Do arms help achieve that political solution, or will they make it harder? That is the question that we are considering."

"The president has never taken arms off the table," Ford told reporters. "But it has to fit within a strategy of leading to a political solution and not where one side seeks to conquer the other militarily. Imagine it this way: How do you convince one side that is losing already to stop fighting when they think their very existence is at threat?"

Ford noted that the United States also wants to avoid allowing advanced weapons to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists, who make up a large portion of Syria's insurgents.

"We certainly understand the Syrian people's desire to defend themselves, but we certainly don't want to give arms to extremists," he said.

"Libya is a case where the proliferation of arms has threatened the stability of the country moving forward," Ford said. "The proliferation of weapons by themselves is not a strategy."

Ford also suggested that the administration is moving toward full recognition of Syria's opposition council.

"They are a legitimate representative of the Syrian people's aspirations," Ford said. "And we will work with them. We will cooperate with them. ... They are making real progress and I expect that our position will evolve as they themselves develop."

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