- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

Obama seeks $500M to arm select Syrian rebels as fighting gets intertwined with Iraq conflict

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is seeking to bolster U.S. efforts to train and arm select members of the Syrian opposition, a move that comes amid increased U.S. concern that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are becoming an intertwined fight against the same Sunni extremist group.

Obama sent Congress a $500 million request Thursday for a Pentagon-run program that would significantly expand previous covert efforts to arm rebels fighting both the Sunni extremists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. If approved by lawmakers, the program would in effect open a second front in the fight against militants spilling over Syria’s border and threatening to overwhelm neighboring Iraq.

Obama has long been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, in part because of concerns that weapons may fall into extremist hands. But administration officials say the U.S. has grown increasingly confident in recent months about its ability to distinguish the moderate rebels from the more extremist elements that include the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has stormed into Iraq and captured much of the northern part of the country.


The risk of U.S. weapons and ammunition falling into the wrong hands appears to have only heightened now that ISIL has strengthened. But Obama’s request to Congress appeared to indicate that tackling the crumbling security situation in Syria and Iraq trumped those concerns.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the military assistance “marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks, push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL who find safe haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels.”

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Ukraine, EU sign historic trade and economic pact amid worries about Moscow’s reaction.

BRUSSELS (AP) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday signed up to a trade and economic pact with the European Union, saying it may be the “most important day” for his country since it became independent from the Soviet Union.

It was the decision of his pro-Moscow predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, to back out of the same EU association agreement in November that touched off massive protests in Ukraine that eventually led to Yanukovych’s flight abroad, Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Later Friday, EU heads of state and government were expected to consider whether to ramp up sanctions against Russia over its conduct toward Ukraine.

Before the signing ceremony, Poroshenko brandished a commemorative pen inscribed with the date of EU’s Vilnius summit where Yanukovych balked at approving the agreement.

“Historic events are unavoidable,” he said.

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