US plan to arm Syrian rebels gains support in Congress
John Boehner, an opposition Republican and Speaker of the House of Representatives, told reporters that he accepted how the chair of the House intelligence committee Mike Rogers had signed off on the plan.
"I think their effort to help the right set of rebels in Syria is in our nation's best interest," Boehner said.
Rogers hinted at a grudging approval of White House plans, saying the intelligence panel had reached a consensus "that we could move forward with what the administration's plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations."
He said the committee still had "very strong concerns" about the strength of the administration's plans and the chances for success.
In a letter to Congress made public Monday, the Pentagon's top general, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the options and risks of US military support for Syrian rebels, saying they might be effective but also could be costly - up to 1 billion dollars a month to impose a no-fly zone - and inadvertently trigger more problems.
Two United Nations officials who arrived in Beirut on Tuesday were scheduled to travel to Damascus the following day for discussions on the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.
Swedish chemical weapons expert and head of a UN investigative team Ake Sellstrom and disarmament official Angela Kane were to discuss the framework that would allow a UN team to begin its work in Syria.
On June 11, the UN accepted an invitation by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal in the northern province of Aleppo in March.
Meanwhile, the head of the main Syrian opposition alliance, Ahmed al-Jarba, is to hold informal talks on Friday in New York with UN Security Council members on the situation in Syria.
The British ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, said the meeting will allow "frank and informal exchanges ... on key issues relating to the Syrian conflict."
Grant said the issues include preparations for the Geneva II conference, humanitarian access, human rights, refugees and protection of civilians in Syria.
At least 93,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, according to the UN.
Russia alleged this month that its experts had collected samples of sarin nerve gas used by the opposition in Syria on March 19, and provided an 80-page analysis to the UN, China, France, the United States and Britain.
France, the US and Britain have given the United Nations what they claim is evidence of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government.
Al-Jarba was elected head of the Syrian National Council earlier this month. The 115-member coalition groups key opposition figures living in exile and inside Syria.
It has, however, been mired in divisions, mainly over proposals to negotiate an end to the conflict with al-Assad's regime.
The Pentagon has for the first time unveiled details of several variants of a military intervention in the civil war in Syria. They are recorded in a letter, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, General Martin Dempsey sent to the Senate on July 22. Chief of Staff of the United States stated that all military options were already handed to the President.
Among the developed plans there are deliveries of weapons to militants, remote air strikes on government troops, creating a no-fly zone over Syria, creating buffer zones on the Syrian borders with Turkey and Jordan, and, finally, using commandos in order to capture chemical weapons.
In principle, there is nothing new. All these plans were mentioned before. Though, it is interesting, why they were made public, in what form and with what comments.
The three-page letter from General Dempsey became a response to the threat by Republican Senator John McCain. The chief apologist of a military intervention in Syria has threatened to block the approval of the general for the highest military post of the United States if such plans were not presented within the next few weeks. Dempsey and McCain have long been experiencing personal dislike for each other. Three days before the publication of the letter, they had a very sharp cut and thrust in the Senate.
American generals seldom give political assessments of the Pentagon plans. But this time Dempsey stepped aside from the unspoken rules and added harsh political comments to the letter. “Proceeding to action, we must be prepared for the things that will follow”, Dempsey said. "It will be difficult to avoid the extension of the intervention. We may unintentionally strengthen the extremists or cause the use of chemical weapons, which we want to take under control".
Sometimes the use of military force may be followed by unexpected consequences, and the situation may change for the worse, General Dempsey said.
“I’ve given those views to the President. We’ve given him options that members of this committee have been briefed on them at a classified serving. We have calculated the risk. The decision on whether to use force is the decision of our elected officials”.
In his letter Dempsey hints that the intervention in Syria will automatically create a second Afghanistan or Iraq for the US. According to the Pentagon’s calculation, appropriations for any of the presented options of military actions in Syria will be from $ 500 million a year (simple deliveries of weapons and training of insurgents) to a $ 1 billion a month. The White House would prefer not to go to such expenses against a background of budgetary economy.
The Syrian opposition is seeking after a direct US intervention. Two days ago, Commander of the Free Syrian Army Salim Idris arrived in New York. According to him, supplies of light weapons and ammunition from Washington to the militants of the opposition can begin in August. They will be carried out through the CIA channels. Although neither the State Department nor the White House said anything about possible meetings with Idris, American newspapers write that his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerr is almost certain, and, may be, he will make a stop in Washington, too.
Meanwhile, after the negotiations of July 22 in Moscow with Syrian Vice-Premier Qadri Jamil, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov reiterated that it was impossible to resolve the situation in Syria by military means.
"We assure everybody in the necessity of approving as soon as possible a Russian-American initiative on convening an international conference on Syria without any preconditions. Unfortunately, so far, - in contrast to the government of Syria - a significant part of the opposition, including the National Coalition, does not show this willingness. We know that your government is open for dialogue with opposition forces and urge you to go on with these efforts, so that none of the constructive opposition groups was outside the scope of the participants of the hopefully forthcoming conference", Lavrov said.
It is not clear yet, who exactly will participate in the Geneva-2 conference on the Syrian settlement, and when it will take place. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that two weeks ago, the opposition had elected a new leadership and it was necessary to wait until it determined its position concerning the negotiations.
Voice of Russia, dpa