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U.S. remains wary of arming Syrian rebels after EU fails to extend arms embargo

The United States remains wary of arming Syrian rebels, even after the European Union (EU) on Monday did not extend its arms embargo on rebel forces.

The EU's move occurred amid mounting pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama as a growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers and pundits clamor for action after reports of alleged use of chemical weapons against rebel forces by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obama said such a move would amount to crossing a "red line" that would escalate U.S. involvement in the civil war.

Still, Obama has cautioned against jumping headlong into the conflict until there is further proof, but has said on several occasions that both diplomatic and military options are on the table.

For now, whether the U.S. will move ahead remains unknown.

"It is unclear whether dropping the Syrian arms embargo by the EU has moved the U.S. closer to arming the rebels," said Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office.

"The danger of arms falling into the hands of rebel militants - many now openly affiliated with al-Qaeda - doubtless is more of a concern than the risk of escalating U.S. involvement in the conflict," he told Xinhua.

Indeed, White argued that the leading role Islamic extremists are playing among the rebels in the fighting has been the main reason for Washington's hesitation.

Rebel Shortages

Rebel reports of shortages over the past two months, just as the forces of Assad have successfully counterattacked in several key areas, strongly suggest Qatar and Saudi Arabia also have slowed their shipments of munitions over the same concerns as Washington, White argued.

Failure to supply desperately needed arms and ammunition over the past year has allowed Syria's government forces to hang on. And now, with thousands of Hezbollah fighters entering the fray on the side of the government as formidable reinforcements, the rebels are either being driven back or forced onto the defensive across much of central and southern Syria, White said.

The rebels have withdrawn recently from some positions largely because of critical shortages of ammunition, he noted.

"At this point, even if a decision to arm the rebels were taken today, with only vetted rebels receiving those arms - and regime forces having regained their footing and secured an important new battlefield ally - it is uncertain whether those arms could arrive in time to reverse the government's momentum," he said.

No Easy Solution for Obama

Some analysts said Obama is caught between a rock and a hard place amid increasing pressure to intervene in war-torn Syria, with each option representing a less-than-ideal choice.

"Whatever he does in Syria, he is doomed. Had he intervened a year ago, as many pundits demanded, he might presently be in the midst of a quagmire with even more pundits angry at him, and with his approval ratings far lower than they are. If he intervenes now, the results might be even worse," argued Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for global intelligence firm Stratfor, writing on the company's website earlier this month.

He added that while the U.S. can topple governments, the world' s superpower cannot remake societies unless overwhelming force is used.

"The United States can topple regimes, (but) it cannot even modestly remake societies unless, perhaps, it commits itself to the level of time and expense it did in post-war Germany and Japan, " contended Kaplan, also a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday after a meeting that they would like to hold negotiations for a peaceful solution to Syria's brutal civil war, but critics said no peace deal is likely anytime soon.

[Source: By Matthew Rusling, Xinhua, Washington, 31May13]

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