Obama’s Hesitance About Arming Rebels in Syria Stiffened by MH17 Tragedy

 “Russia has urged them on. Russia has trained them,” Obama said at the White House July 21. “We know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons.” (Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg)
“Russia has urged them on. Russia has trained them,” Obama said at the White House July 21. “We know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons.” (Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg)

The downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft in Ukraine may stiffen Obama administration resistance to providing heavy armaments to rebels — or even besieged governments — seeking U.S. help in hotspots around the world.

In the wake of the Malaysia Airlines disaster, President Barack Obama has raised the risk that weapons could be misused in his discussions with aides about the U.S. possibly arming fighters it supports, according to an administration official familiar with the discussions.

The U.S. says a Russian-made missile probably fired by the pro-Russian insurgents brought down the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in Ukraine, killing 298 people. The separatists also have shot down military aircraft in their fight against the government.

The lethal success of the Ukrainian separatists now is playing into White House calculations of U.S. arms assistance. Aid to the Syrian opposition, as well as to the governments under siege in Ukraine and Iraq, is part of the discussion, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The president and his national security team are wary of “the proliferation risk associated with anti-aircraft systems,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said in an e-mail.

Syrian opposition groups and some members of Congress have been lobbying for heavier weapons from the U.S. to fight the forces of Bashar al-Assad, which have been attacking rebel positions with helicopters and other aircraft. Arizona Senator John McCain and other lawmakers say Obama should send more sophisticated arms to the Ukrainian government and to Iraq, where the central government is fighting an insurgency let by an al-Qaeda spinoff.

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SOURCE:  Margaret Talev 
Bloomberg News

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