Obama Administration Considers Options Against Syria
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
So far, we don't know who exactly might have used chemical weapons in Syria, or where or when they were used. U.S. intelligence agencies can only say at this point, that evidence shows those kinds of weapons have been used there. If the administration does get verification though, that the Syrian regime is responsible for chemical agents like sarin gas being used against opposition militants, then President Obama says that's a game changer and it could involve some kind of military action.
Here to discuss more about what it might mean is NPR's Kelly McEvers. Good morning.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So, Kelly, what are the options that the administration is considering if, in fact, an arrow gets appointed very specifically and directly at the Syrian government?
MCEVERS: Yesterday, we heard the President Obama talk about a spectrum of military options the U.S. is considering. A senior administration official told me that spectrum includes arming the Syrian rebels, who are fighting to bring down the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, likely with shoulder-fired missiles that can take down planes.
The spectrum also includes limited airstrikes on Syrian military targets. Then also includes the establishment of safe zones or partial no-fly zones inside Syria, where civilians would be protected and where rebel fighters could possibly regroup.
The official told me that the U.S. is leaning toward the option of sending these arms to the rebels, but the official said they're still considering all the options.
MONTAGNE: As someone who has reported on the ground there in Syria, on the civil war, talk us through what some of these options might mean in real life.
MCEVERS: Getting more sophisticated weapons to the rebels is something the rebels themselves have been clamoring for, for some time. I think a lot of people worry about sending them these anti-aircraft weapons. I mean no one wants to see them falling into the wrong hands. You know, imagine, Renee, Islamist fighters using such a weapon to, you know, say, down a passenger plane at some later point.
But we did report back in the fall that the U.S. and its allies have been training some Syrian rebels on such weapons, namely in Jordan. You know, there's a sense that they've chosen the fighters that they like. And that the, you know, the ones who aren't the hard-line Islamist fighters and that there is, you know, a knowable pipeline to get these weapons into the fight and into the right hands.
As for safe zones, well, you know, someone would have to protect them. And I think this administration knows there is little appetite from the American public to see any loss of American life in Syria.
MONTAGNE: You know, am wondering if this is possibly just an upping in rhetoric by the Obama administration, although they were pretty specific about that red line when it was first brought up. But I mean, would you say that it's possibly still seeking a diplomatic answer?
MCEVERS: It is possible. I think, you know, now that the U.S. is willing to at least talk tough and perhaps back up its words with actions, it might change its position with the different players here. You know, it might be able to go to Syria's allies, namely Russia. Russia has been, you know, backing Syria, blocking any action in the U.N. Security Council.
It might be able to go to Russia and say: OK, you know, now what are you going to do. Do you still want to back, you know, the Syrian president? Or now that you know we are serious, you know, about action here, might you encourage him to step down?
MONTAGNE: Kelly, thanks very much.
MCEVERS: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Kelly McEvers.
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