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Ranking Democrat, Republican press Obama administration on Syria

April 11, 2013|By Paul Richter
  • The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the acting assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs, Elizabeth Jones, looks on.
The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, appears before the Senate Foreign… (Michael Reynolds / European…)

WASHINGTON – The ranking Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee both urged the Obama administration Thursday to exert more pressure on behalf of the rebels in the Syrian civil war.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee’s chairman, prodded the White House during a hearing to begin providing arms to rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, a step the administration has so far refused to take because it fears the weapons could someday be used against the United States or its allies.

“Unless we change the dynamic and put our finger on the scales to change the tipping point, Assad will continue to believe he can hold on to power,” Menendez said.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking minority member, complained that “we’ve been in reaction mode, and the administration’s response that we’ve seen is ad hoc.”

Corker asked three administration officials who testified to shed more light on the administration’s intentions in Syria. Yet Corker stopped short of calling for a deeper U.S. military commitment, saying, “We really have no good options available to us in Syria.”

The hearing offered a glimpse into the ambivalence and uncertainty in  Congress over the issue at a time when the administration, in an ever-evolving policy, appears to be creeping toward greater involvement.

This week, U.S. officials indicated that the White House was poised to approve supplying nonlethal equipment, such as night-vision goggles and armored vests, to the opposition.

But Elizabeth Jones, acting assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs, told the committee that the administration remained opposed to providing arms to the rebels.

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