McCain resolution calls for safe zones and arming the Syrian opposition

Josh Rogin by Josh Rogin on March 28th, 2012

This is article 651 of 1238 in the topic International

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and five like-minded lawmakers unveiled a new resolution on Syria Wednesday that calls for establishing safe zones inside Syria for civilians and support for arming the opposition against the regime of Bashar al Assad.

The non-binding resolution stops short of calling for direct U.S. military intervention in Syria, which McCain supports, and is meant to create a consensus on increasing U.S. support for the Syrian opposition that the greatest number of lawmakers can rally around. As of now, the resolution has six sponsors, mostly Republicans. In addition to McCain, they are Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and John Hoeven (R-ND).

The resolution expresses that the Senate “recognizes that the people of Syria have an inherent right to defend themselves against the campaign of violence being conducted by the Assad regime” and “supports calls by Arab leaders to provide the people of Syria with the means to defend themselves against Bashar al-Assad and his forces, including through the provision of weapons and other material support, and calls on the President to work closely with regional partners to implement these efforts effectively.”

The resolution also urges President Barack Obama to work with Middle East countries to develop plans for creating safe havens in Syria, which the senators feel “would be an important step to save Syrian lives and to help bring an end to Mr. Assad’s killing of civilians in Syria,” urges the president to hold Syrian officials accountable for atrocities, and supports the “Friends of the Syrian People” contact group, which will hold its second meeting Sunday in Turkey.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to attend that meeting, after a stop in Saudi Arabia, but don’t expect her to come out in support of the senators’ proposals. As The Cable reported earlier this month, the Obama administration is willing to provide non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels and look the other way while other countries arm them… but that’s about it.

Some reports claim that the U.S. has already begun to provide communications equipment to the internal Syrian opposition and the U.S. has pledged $10 million in financial aid.

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that ongoing violence by the Assad regime showed a lack of progress but that the U.S. position, which is to support a political process that would see Assad step down, hasn’t changed.

“We will have the Friends of the Syrian People meeting this weekend. And I understand that Kofi Annan will also be making a report to the Security Council on Monday. So it’s incumbent on all of us to keep the pressure on Assad to meet the commitment that he’s made. And that’s our intention over the next few days,” she said.

On Tuesday, Clinton said she hopes the Assad regime will halt the violence so that a political process with the opposition — which she also urged to cease the use of force — can begin. “And I’m hoping that by the time I get to Istanbul on Sunday we will be in a position to acknowledge steps that the Assad regime and the opposition have both taken. We’re certainly urging that those occur,’ she said.

Nuland said the Syrian opposition will be represented at Sunday’s meeting by the Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC has tenuous ties to the internal Syrian opposition and to the Free Syrian Army, the loose network of military defectors and local militias whose nominal leaders are based across the border in Turkey. The administration won’t work with the FSA, citing an opposition to violence from either side, and the FSA has rejected the SNC as its representative.

Clinton called on the Syrian opposition to get its act together in advance of the meeting in Turkey.

“They must come forward with a unified position, a vision if you will, of the kind of Syria that they are working to build. They must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians. And we are going to be pushing them very hard to present such a vision at Istanbul. So we have a lot of work to do between now and Sunday,” she said.

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