U.S., European powers foreground armed support for Syrian rebels

UPDATE: U.S. officials reject reports of new no-fly zone plans

Topics: Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Middle East, Israel, Russia, John McCain, Civil War, no-fly zone, ,

Updated 5:20 p.m. EST: According to NBC’s Richard Engel, military officials are denying reports from the Daily Beast that new plans for a no-fly zone over Syria have been put in place:

 

Original post: Prospects for peace talks over the Syrian civil war looked grim Tuesday, as the U.S. and E.U. butted heads with Russia over sending arms to opposing sides in the bloody conflict. The U.S. has praised Europe’s decision to ease an arms embargo against Syrian rebels, although major European forces Britain and France have not gone so far as to arm Syrian rebels. As the Guardian noted:

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British officials said the lifting of the embargo had a political purpose, increasing pressure on President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters, Russia and Iran, to make concessions at Geneva, and most importantly to agree not to play a role in a transitional Syrian government. If that fails, the officials said western arms supplies would strengthen moderate elements in the opposition who are currently outgunned and outfinanced by jihadist groups.

On Tuesday, the Daily Beast reported that the White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the U.S. and other countries such as France and Britain. The Daily Beast noted:

President Obama’s dual-track strategy of continuing to pursue a political solution to the two-year-old uprising in Syria while also preparing for more direct U.S. military involvement includes authorizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first time to plan for multilateral military actions inside Syria, the two officials said. They added that no decisions on actually using force have yet been made.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday reiterated U.S. trepidation about further intervention in the conflict. However, a surprise visit to Syrian opposition leaders by the ever-hawkish Sen. John McCain (which the White House knew of ahead of time) has raised some eyebrows, as McCain has been one of the loudest voices pushing for U.S. military intervention. Via Politico:

McCain made a brief, unannounced trip into Syria from Turkey on Monday to meet with leaders of the Syrian rebellion, who have asked the United States for heavy weaponry, strategic airstrikes against Hezbollah and the forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad and the establishment of a no-fly zone. A McCain aide told POLITICO the State Department didn’t object to his Syrian sojourn.

“I know they worked with the State Department with this,” the aide, who was only authorized to speak on background, said. “We didn’t really have any issues with them on it.”

Meanwhile, at the forefront of heightening tensions is Russia’s decision supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to the Syrian government. The U.S. has called the decision “a mistake.” Israel reacted swiftly, tacitly threatening to strike shipments:

“The shipments haven’t set out yet and I hope they won’t,” Moshe Ya’alon, the Israeli defence minister, said. “If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do.”

 

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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