- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sen. John McCain on Tuesday said the United States should consider smuggling weapons into Syria to help unarmed anti-government protesters targeted by the Syrian military, whose ongoing crackdown continues to push the nation toward civil war.

“We should start considering all options, including arming the opposition,” Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters in Washington.

The comment triggered a harsh reaction at the State Department, where spokeswoman Victoria Nuland asserted that “we don’t think more arms into Syria is the answer.”

Ms. Nuland said U.S. officials “never take anything off the table,” but she reiterated assertions made by President Obama on Monday that peace in Syria still can be negotiable without an international military intervention.

While the U.S. and NATO forces backed opposition forces who toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last year, Ms. Nuland said that “Libya was a completely different situation” from that unfolding now in Syria.

U.S. officials think the answer is to get “national democratic dialogue, for the violence to stop, for the [Assad] regime’s tanks to come out of the cities and then for monitors to be able to go back in,” Ms. Nuland said.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Mr. Assad began last March.

Yesterday’s exchange in Washington came as world leaders scrambled to forge a new strategy toward Syria after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. resolution demanding Mr. Assad end his military’s violent crackdown on civilians.