Bipartisan group opposes arming Syrian rebels

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing a resolution that would prevent President Barack Obama from arming the Syrian rebels without congressional approval.

Countering the loud Senate voices clamoring for action, the libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats told a Capitol Hill news conference that they fear the United States being dragged into the deadly civil war that has killed more than 100,000 based on the latest estimates.

“If we intervene militarily, we will exacerbate the situation,” said Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., who served more than two decades in the Army with multiple tours to Iraq and deployments to Kosovo and Haiti. He said he was concerned about the U.S. getting “sucked into a very difficult situation” when budget cuts have hit the military hard.

Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont said everyone recognizes that Syria is a humanitarian crisis as rebels have fought the regime of President Bashar Assad for more than two years. He warned, however, about “Americanizing a civil war.”

The Obama administration announced earlier this month that it would start sending weapons to Syrian opposition groups, after it found conclusive evidence that Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons against opposition forces. The White House said multiple chemical attacks last year with substances including the nerve agent sarin killed up to 150 people. Britain and the United States notified the United Nations of 10 different incidents of alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian government, a U.N. diplomat said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the incidents have not been publicly divulged.

The lawmakers cited Libya, where U.S. involvement helped oust strongman Moammar Gadhafi but left a lawlessness reflected in the deadly assault in Benghazi last September that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Joining Gibson and Welch on the resolution were Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan of Minnesota.

Asked about the legislative effort, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was too soon to discuss such a vote.

“I think that the United States has a strategic interest in what happens in Syria. We all would like to see Assad go. We’d also like to see a democratically elected government there,” Boehner told reporters at a separate news conference. “And so for our interests and to support our allies in the region, I’m going to continue to work with the president on responsible steps that we can take to protect our interests.”

On the resolution, he said, “I don’t know that we are ready for that conversation because the president has not suggested any specific steps forward at this point and so there is really nothing yet to vote on.”

Separately, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, head of the Homeland Security panel, have introduced similar legislation that would block the administration from providing weapons to the rebels unless it gets congressional approval first.

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