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McCain Presses for Arming Syrian Rebels

US Senators John McCain (R-AZ) (L) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) (2nd L) are greeted by Syrian refugee children during their visit at Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border, April 10, 2012.
US Senators John McCain (R-AZ) (L) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) (2nd L) are greeted by Syrian refugee children during their visit at Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border, April 10, 2012.
Michael Bowman

A high-ranking U.S. senator is again calling for arming Syrian rebels as part of a more robust effort to oust President Bashar al-Assad. Republican Senator John McCain spoke on U.S. television as an advance team of unarmed U.N. observers was due to arrive in Syria.

Senator McCain says America’s response to continued bloodletting in Syria is inadequate and shameful.

“For the United States to sit by and watch this wanton massacre is a betrayal of everything we stand for and believe in,” he said.

The Arizona lawmaker recently met in Turkey with senior officers of the opposition Free Syrian Army, which has been pleading for foreign military assistance. Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation program, McCain said the United States should answer the call.

“Over there, they [Syrian rebels] are waiting for American leadership," said McCain. "We have announced that we are now providing them with non-lethal equipment. That does not do very well against tanks and artillery. We need to get a sanctuary for the Free Syrian Army; we need to get them supplies; we need to get them weapons. And there are many ways to get weapons to them. We showed that in Libya, we showed that in Afghanistan [in the 1980s].”

The Obama administration says it supports providing humanitarian relief to the Syrian people, and has backed U.N.-led efforts to halt fighting and begin negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents. But McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, notes that Syrian rebels are outgunned and that, as he put it, “It is not a fair fight.”

McCain also blasted Russia and China for blocking stronger U.N. Security Council measures to quell bloodshed and speed a transition in Syria, and said a U.N.-Arab League peace plan is inadequate because it does not specify Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power.

Russia and China on Saturday joined the rest of the council members in voting to send an advance team of unarmed observers to Syria to monitor a fragile cease-fire between the government and armed opposition forces.

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