White House ‘evaluating’ weapons for Syrian rebels

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A day after President Obama was criticized for hedging on reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria’s civil war, the White House left open the possibility Wednesday that the U.S. would provide weaponry soon to opposition groups.

“I’m not ruling that out; I’m just not ruling it in, either,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “We have not and are not providing weapons to the Syrian opposition, but we are continuing to review our options.”

Rebel groups have been locked in a two-year war with the regime of Bashar al-Assad that has killed an estimated 70,000 civilians. The Obama administration told Congress last week that it has evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria, a development that Mr. Obama has said he wouldn’t tolerate, calling it a “game changer.”

But since the report came out, the president has been amending his position, saying he wants the international community to verify that chemical weapons were used. He said Tuesday it’s not clear who used the weapons.

That prompted criticism from Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, who said Mr. Obama is risking U.S. credibility and is encouraging other belligerent regimes to violate international law. Some anti-Assad activists have accused Mr. Obama of waffling and creating conditions that guarantee the U.S. won’t get involved directly in the conflict.

Various lawmakers have called for the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria to protect civilians, as well as providing rebel groups with arms.

Mr. Carney said the administration has stepped up its non-lethal aid to rebel groups, and has been learning more about “those elements [of the opposition] that we have confidence in.” Some critics have warned that the Obama administration has been helping opposition groups with ties to al Qaeda.

Mr. Carney said the administration is trying to associate itself with rebel groups who “do not oppose U.S. interests.”

“And that is a process that’s ongoing,” he said. “So we have learned more about the opposition, we have worked more closely with the opposition, we have stepped up our aid and assistance to the opposition, and these evaluations are ongoing.”

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