- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2013

When President Obama arrives in Northern Ireland for the Group of Eight summit Monday, some U.S. allies will wonder why he was late to a different party — the decision to intervene more strongly in the Syrian civil war.

The American president isn’t likely to be pleading with G-8 friends to help rebels overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Rather, analysts say, Britain, France and other nations will breathe a sigh of relief that the U.S. finally has decided to throw its weight behind the effort to topple the Syrian leader.

The White House announced last week that intelligence reports confirmed that Mr. Assad used chemical agents such as sarin gas against his own people, triggering a stronger U.S. response and a commitment in Syria that has been long-awaited by other nations. American involvement now will involve sending arms directly to Syrian rebels, in addition to more medical and communications supplies and potential training for opposition forces.

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The administration may need to do even more, some Capitol Hill Republicans — and even Democrats — said Sunday.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the White House action a “first step.”

“The reality is we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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On “NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the Obama administration’s objective should be to “balance the military power, and providing small arms won’t do it.”

Many others following the Syrian crisis share Mr. Graham’s skepticism.

“Until this recent announcement by the Obama administration, the allies have been looking for U.S. leadership. It is the absence of U.S. leadership that, in particular, explains the longevity of this conflict,” said Murhaf Jouejati, a professor of Middle East studies at the National Defense University and George Washington University. A specialist on the region, Mr. Jouejati is a native of Syria, which is being torn apart by a bloody civil war that has raged for more than two years and has claimed more than 92,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates.

“Now that the U.S. has taken leadership, each country among the allies will have a particular role to play,” he said. “Everybody was waiting for the United States. And it was the United States that was not moving.”

Key meeting for world leaders

Mr. Obama will arrive Monday morning at the resort in Northern Ireland where the summit is being held and will participate in sessions through Tuesday. From there, the president and his family will travel to Berlin, where Mr. Obama will give a speech Wednesday at the Brandenburg Gate.

This G-8 gathering could be pivotal for Mr. Obama as he looks for a way to defuse the situation in Syria. Late Friday, he held a conference call with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the crisis. In addition to those leaders, the heads of Russia, Japan and Canada will attend the summit.

“He’ll be discussing with [other G-8] leaders what the best way forward is. He’ll hear from them what their plans are. Thus far, they’ve been important partners,” Ben Rhodes, the administration’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said during a White House press briefing Friday. “This will be an ongoing dialogue between the president and his fellow leaders.”

The international community’s new tack in Syria is expected to dominate the G-8 agenda, but major developments in Iran, North Korea and other parts of the world also will be addressed.

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