The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, pressed President Barack Obama on Monday to arm moderate Syrian rebels friendly to the United States “at the earliest possible time.”
In a letter to Obama, Corker said, “Acting now and offering lethal aid directly to our allies in the opposition will shift momentum away from radical Islamist groups, the Assad regime and its militias toward more moderate elements and could help alter the balance of power on the ground at a time when negotiations over a political settlement have stalled."
Corker is a key supporter of bipartisan legislation—the Syria Transition Support Act of 2013—that calls for arming and providing other support to Syrian rebel forces “that have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States.” The measure sailed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 15-3 vote in late May.
“As you face a critical policy decision on Syria this week, I encourage you to look to the bipartisan consensus created by this committee three weeks ago,” Corker said.
Opponents of such a plan have warned that al-Qaida-linked fighters in Syria could get their hands on advanced American weapons. Other critics say arming rebels could escalate the conflict, which has already claimed at least 70,000 lives.
But supporters of escalating the U.S. role argue that should President Bashar Assad’s regime fall, arming “vetted” rebel forces should ensure that the country does not end up serving as a launching pad for extremists.
In his letter, Corker said the aid would aim “to enhance the moderate opposition’s ability to be a reliable security partner, both now and in the future.”
“While the United States helped at the margins with humanitarian aid, we have yet to take decisive action to support the opposition, even though our national policy has long been that Assad must go,” Corker said. “Our indecision has allowed extremist elements to gain the upper hand within the opposition, while Assad remains in power buttressed by Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah.”