Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday that he plans to introduce legislation to allow the Obama administration to transfer weapons to Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Reporting from the region, ABC’s Terry Moran said on the network’s Sunday program “This Week” that the U.S. faces a choice, either arm the rebels or work with Russia, and perhaps Assad himself, on a potential peace deal between the two warring factions. When asked about that choice, Engel said he thinks “it’s time” to allow President Obama to provide the rebels with direct military assistance:
TERRY MORAN: The United States has a choice: arm the rebels, engage even more deeply in what is becoming a chaotic and dangerous war to this region or broker a peace, probably with Russia, give the Syrian people an opportunity to determine their future and at least in the first stages, Bashar Assad is likely to be part of that process.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Engel is that the choice?
ENGEL: I think it’s the choice and I will be introducing legislation to allow the President to arm the rebels. I think it’s time to do that. I think the Free Syria Army needs help. We know who they are and I think it’s time we make that move.
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The United States has been providing training and logistics and communications assistance to the rebels but thus far, the Obama administration has been reluctant to provide arms, instead preferring to allow other regional allies to send weapons to the rebels fighting Assad. But with recent revelations that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey supported a plan to arm the rebels, and now with the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to introduce legislation backing that plan, momentum may be gaining to persuade the Obama administration to shift course.