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667 words - May 30, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
US Senator and former Republican nominee for the 2008 Presidential elections, John McCain, went to Syria where he met with anti-Bashar al-Assad rebels and affirmed his country and its allies can help "the right people." McCain's trip to Syria was made in full knowledge by the White House which was informed in advance of the Senator's meeting with the chiefs of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), including its commander Gen. Salim Idris.
"We were aware, of course, that Senator McCain was going to make this trip," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "And we look forward to speaking with Senator McCain upon his return to learn more about the trip." However it seems that McCain's crossing into northern Syria from Turkey was a surprise. Spokesman Patrick Ventrell of the State Department said he doesn't have "a particular reaction to the trip one way or another."
Senator McCain's office told reporters that his visit was organized by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a US-based non-profit group that backs the Syrian opposition. "While meeting with Senator McCain, General Idris and FSA commanders asked that the United States increase its aid to the Free Syrian Army in the form of heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and air strikes on Hezbollah," the SETF website said. Bombing Hezbollah would somehow be a declaration of war against Iran, DiploNews underlined, with all the potential consequences it would have regarding the Middle East's stability, energy supplies and the ongoing nuclear issue with Tehran.
Opinion polls showed a very large majority of the Americans (approx. 70%), Republicans as Democrats, are against a US intervention in Syria. Also, a large number of current and former officials voiced their concern about the risks of sending weapons to Syria, for fear they could end up in the hands of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), like Al Qaeda-affiliated group Al-Nusra. So far Senator McCain has strongly disagreed. According to him, the wait-and-see policy of the West is just sending more and more violent extremists to Syria. "Every single day, more and more extremists flow in… They're flowing in all the time, these extremists. But they still do not make up a sizeable portion (of the Syrian rebels)," the Senator told CNN's Anderson Cooper. Furthermore, recent developments showed foreign groups like Hezbollah are indeed increasingly taking part in the day-to-day combats on the ground.
Surprisingly, the visit of Senator McCain served more the interests of countries like the UK and France which have been continuously pushing for the sending of weapons to the Syrian opposition for months, eventually lifting the European Union's embargo, than the policy of President Barack Obama administration whose diplomat-in-chief, Secretary of State John Kerry, is trying to convene a second edition of the Geneva conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
According to DiploNews, Senator McCain's visit had the virtue of stressing the very urgent need of a solution as the situation in Syria has turned into a nightmare. However, DiploNews thought, the Senator's efforts could prove counter-productive in case Russia interprets them as the second track of a double-track policy led by the United States on Syria. Iran already seized the opportunity, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs' spokesman Abbas Araqchi saying "McCain's illegal entrance to Syria contradicted the US claim saying Washington was seeking diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis."
The Syrian rebels "don't understand why we don't help them", said Senator McCain. Yet the non-lethal official support has been quite substantial over the last two years. On the one hand, the fact that the Syrian opposition seems not as unified as it claimed to be clearly harms any chance of strong support from the West. On the other hand, finding a durable solution seems unlikely without some support from Russia, according to diplomatic circles, and the West itself has yet to agree on a same, unique, strong stance too.
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