WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama is open to reversing himself and deciding to arm vetted Syrian rebel fighters, senior administration officials told The New York Times.
The possible U-turn comes as Obama has no clear strategy to resolve the crisis and apparently shrinking options for speeding Syrian President Bashar Assad’s exit, the newspaper said.
Obama rejected a proposal by four top national security officials who wanted to arm the rebels last fall.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey on Feb.7 told the Senate Armed Services Committee they both supported the proposal brought to Obama in the fall but were rebuffed.
A question is whether Obama, surrounded by a new national security team — including Secretary of State John Kerry and Chuck Hagel if he is confirmed as defence secretary — would reach a different conclusion, the Times said.
“This is not a closed decision,” a senior administration official told the newspaper.
“As the situation evolves, as our confidence increases, we might revisit it.” US officials told The Wall Street Journal after Panetta and Dempsey testified before the Senate panel, Obama shelved the idea because of lingering questions about which rebels could be trusted with the arms — and whether the weapons could be used against civilians or Israeli and US interests.
The New York Times reported those same concerns on Tuesday.
The officials said Obama also questioned if arming the rebels would really help remove Assad, the Journal said.
Obama also wondered if the weapons would add to civilian suffering, the officials said.
A US official told the Journal at the time a CIA team of analysts had cast doubt on the benefits of arming the rebels.
The proposal was broached before the November election, officials said.
Obama had campaigned on the theme that “the tide of war” was receding.
Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon advised against the plan, the Times said.
Some administration officials expected the issue to be re-examined after the election.