Arm Syrian Rebels, Senators McCain and Graham Urge

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Demonstrators gather during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Hula, near Homs
Demonstrators gather during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Hula, near Homs

Arming Syrian dissidents who are battling a brutal government assault would help to safeguard America's interests in the Middle East, two U.S. senators said on Sunday.

Speaking in Afganistan, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., outlined ways the United States could bolster the Syrian opposition without intervening directly, The New York Times reported. The senators underscored the ties between the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Iran. Syria and Iran are also key patrons of Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which the State Department designates as terorrist organizations.

Breaking Syria apart from Iran could be as important to containing a nuclear Iran as sanctions, Graham said. If the Syrian regime is replaced with another form of government that doesn't tie its future to the Iranians, the world is a better place.

Diplomatic Option Not Faring Well

Attempts to broker a diplomatic solution modeled on an Arab League proposal collapsed when Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for Assad to step down. Russia has defended its backing Syria while continuing to sell arms to the Assad regime, and McCain said arming the Syrian rebels could counterbalance Russia's support.

The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves, McCain said. So I am not only not opposed, but I am in favor of weapons being obtained by the opposition.

McCain had already called for supporting the rebels in a way that does not entail boots on the ground. The Obama administration has so far been more cautious; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unequivocally condemned Russia and China's veto but has called for tighter sanctions on Syria while saying the United States would join other countries in supporting the opposition's peaceful political plans for change.

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