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US Senators Call for Increased Military Pressure on Syrian Government

  • Meredith Buel

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon in Raqqa province, east Syria, May 6, 2013.

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon in Raqqa province, east Syria, May 6, 2013.

Members of the U.S. Congress are calling on the Obama administration to put additional military pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort to end the country’s civil war.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is calling for President Barack Obama to arm the rebels in Syria.

Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says the U.S. needs to do more in Syria to change the situation on the ground.

“It is essential, Mr. President, that the United States, working with our allies in the region, step up the military pressure on the Assad regime. Of course doing so in a carefully thought out and regionally supported way,” Levin said.

Arizona Senator John McCain says the strategic and humanitarian costs of the Syrian conflict are devastating both for the Syrian people and American interests.

McCain says the U.S. military should train and arm Syrian opposition forces and use precision strike capabilities to target the government’s aircraft and SCUD missile launchers.

“We have the capacity to significantly weaken both the Assad regime's airpower and its increasing use of ballistic missiles, which pose significant risks as delivery vehicles for chemical weapons,” McCain said.

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, says the U.S. should arm the Syrian rebels with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.

“Under the present set of circumstances, Assad believes that he is winning and for so long as he believes he is winning he will continue the course that he is on. There has to be a change in the tipping point here,” Menendez said.

The Obama administration has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, but has been reluctant to provide weapons to the rebels because of concern they could fall into the hands of militants.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says President Assad cannot be part of a transitional government that could lead the country out of civil war.

Kerry spoke in Rome during a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

"The foreign minister will work with us, as they have, to try to bring all the parties to the table so that we can effect a transition government by mutual consent of both sides, which clearly means that, in our judgment, President Assad will not be a component of that transitional government,'' Kerry said.

Secretary Kerry also urged Russia not to sell an advanced air defense system to Syria.

He said such a move would be destabilizing for Israel, a key U.S. ally in the region.