Foreign Relations chair moves bill to arm Syrian rebels
May 6th, 2013
05:22 PM ET
10 years ago

Foreign Relations chair moves bill to arm Syrian rebels

(CNN) – The Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee offered legislation Monday that would allow the United States to provide lethal weapons to the Syrian opposition, a step President Barack Obama has yet to publicaly endorse.

Sen. Robert Menendez's bill would allow U.S.-provided arms, military training and supplies to go to groups that have been vetted and cleared, and establish a $250 million fund to help support a political transition in Syria, where a civil war has been waged for over 2 years.

The bill comes amid reports that chemical weapons have been used in the country. The White House notified lawmakers in April that the United States had established, with "varying degrees of confidence," that a sarin gas attack had taken place in Syria. But over the weekend a U.N. official said evidence points to the use of the deadly nerve agent by Syrian rebel forces, not the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. A spokesman for the Rebel Free Syrian Army disputed those claims.

Menendez, along with a group of other lawmakers, has pushed for greater U.S. involvement in Syria since before the reports of chemical weapons emerged.

"The Assad regime has crossed a red line that forces us to consider all options," Menendez said Monday. "The greatest humanitarian crisis in the world is unfolding in and around Syria, and the U.S. must play a role in tipping the scales toward opposition groups and working to build a free Syria."

Menendez's measure would place new sanctions on supporters of Assad's regime, including nations found to have transferred equipment, arms or oil to the country.

"There will be no greater strategic setback to Iran than to have the Assad regime collapse, and cause a disruption to the terror pipeline between Tehran and Hezbollah in Lebanon," Menendez said.

Republicans and Democrats alike have called on Obama to ramp up support for Syrian rebels, who now receive nonlethal aid like food and medicine from the United States. In early April that aid was stepped up to include equipment such as body armor, night vision goggles and other military equipment that is defensive in nature.

On Sunday, Sen. John McCain of Arizona renewed his call for arming Syrian rebels, saying Obama's "red line" for further action in the country was "apparently written in disappearing ink."

McCain suggested the United States establish a "safe zone" in Syria, take out the government's air assets – "which we can do from long range-no American boots on the ground" – and supply the rebel forces with the weapons they need.

But other lawmakers, including GOP Rep. Peter King, said American arms flowing into Syria could end up in the hands of terrorists.

"Unfortunately, to a large extent, al Qaeda elements have a lot of control within the rebel movements. My concern is that, by arming the rebels, we could be strengthening al Qaeda," King, R-New York, said on CNN's State of the Union. He was echoing concerns voiced to CNN by other U.S. officials, who have said they believe militant groups like al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front are operating in Syria.

Officials also believe Iranian-backed militias and Hezbollah units could be operating in the country and potentially infiltrating the rebel opposition.

"If we are going to arm the rebels, we have to make sure that those arms are not going to end up in the possession of al Qaeda supporters, nor at the end game is al Qaeda going to be in a position to take over this movement," King added Sunday.

Obama's administration has cited the potential for American weapons to reach terrorist organizations as a reason not to arm the Syrian rebels. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated those concerns Monday.

Filed under: Robert Menendez • Syria
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Larry L

    We never learn... We'll get to see those lethal weapons used against our Soldiers at some point. Let's reinstate the draft – with no exemptions for gender, marital status, family income, or anything else. Let's give everybody's kids a chance to die on some stinking foreign soil so Haliburton can make big bucks with defense contracts.

    May 6, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    Meanwhile, testimony in the UN from human rights groups and investigators suggests that it was actually the Syrian rebels who used sarin gas. You sure there's enough room left under your rug for that CNN?

    May 6, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Although I would vehemently disagree at this juncture with the actual implementation of this bill should it be approved, I can see the strategic value of going public with it being pushed through the Senate. First, it would send an alert to the Assad regime that we would stand with the Syrian rebels, and are taking the necessary steps at home to do so, should we decide to do so. Secondly, although the President has yet to make a decision one way or another he is nothing if not proactive and methodical in his approaches and actions. He is not one to leave things to the last minute and then try to rush through whatever steps he is mandated to take in order to support not only his decision but its' timely execution.
    Having said all that I'm hoping that none of this comes to pass.

    May 6, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  4. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Let's not get involved in this fight.
    Let's mind our own business.

    May 6, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  5. rs

    So, how will we respond when one of these "freedom fighters" attacks an embassy or consular office? Have the last few Middle Eastern entanglements not taught us anything?

    May 6, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  6. California Gary

    You bet.......we've had so much success in the past getting involved in things like this......we should jump right out there and see what we can do to make a bad situation worse. Then when it gets "real bad"........we can send our troops in there to "liberate" them.

    May 6, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  7. PJ

    "But over the weekend a UN official said evidence points to the use of the deadly nerve agent by Syrian
    rebel forces..."
    I don't care what Menendez, McCain or any other "lawmaker" wants ---–

    "If we are going to arm the rebels, we have to make sure that those arms do not end up in the possession of
    Al Qaeda supporters............." Wise words!

    May 6, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  8. ORGirl

    Right! Here's a novel about if we keep our big, fat nose out of everyone else's business and start tending to our own!!! Eventually, those weapons will be turned against us...

    May 6, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  9. sfox

    The use of sarin gas by the rebels, if true, along with receiving material support form al Qaeda makes the likelihood of US helping the rebels much less. There is no restriction on individuals, including senators from sending aid to the rebels if they wish or collecting volunteers to go over and fight. Perhaps the NRA can start such a movement.

    May 6, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  10. Data Driven

    It's official: this is the stupidest thing in 2013 thus far. We never learn, is right.

    May 6, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  11. DPB

    Wonder how the media and Bo Bo will blame this on Bush

    May 6, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  12. Len

    I agree, reinstate the draft so everyone's kids would have their skin in the game.
    Did you hear today North Korea took down the two missiles that threatened the world. Please support President Obama instead of the warmongers of this country.

    May 6, 2013 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  13. rs

    Alright, our sympathies may lie with the "rebels" as they are the underdog, but really we aren't happy with either group- the rulers or the rebels and in the normal course of things, we'd avoid both of them. This is made even more pointed inasmuch as according to the U.N. folks observing events on the ground it is not clear that it wash't the rebels who used chemical weapons, and mot the Syrian army. It doesn't seem to matter to the GOP however, a war is a war and it is a shame to waste one.....or your kids in fighting one.

    May 6, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  14. helenecha

    The arguments on whether the U.S. should supply Syrian rebels with weapons could have made many of us feel disappointed. Because the U.S. would rather give up arming Syrian rebels than see the terrorist groups get weapons.

    May 6, 2013 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  15. Jill

    I agree the situation in Syria is a humanitarian crisis and one not easily fixed. I love America despite not being an American citizen, and I would like someone to explain why America "must" intervene in Syria? Why can't wealthy Arab nations step up here, along with many other capable countries? Why "must" the US be militarily involved? We are war weary; we are in debt; our own children and nation need help. I would like to see some different countries share the load and support human dilemmas. May a peaceful solution be found one way or another is my hope.

    May 7, 2013 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  16. David

    There should be an all out ban on privatized military, have a feeling the war mongering politicians would see things different if they were no longer getting their palms greased. This is Russia's puppet state, we should stay out.

    May 7, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  17. technophile50

    "Sen. Robert Menendez's bill would allow U.S.-provided arms, military training and supplies to go to groups that have been vetted and cleared..."
    But they've already voted down tighter background checks before gettin' your hands on a gun. Is this a flip, or a flop?

    May 7, 2013 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  18. Wasy BOYD

    I am glad and i thank GOD that neither war monger Mccain nor Romney is our president today.

    May 7, 2013 06:00 am at 6:00 am |