Senators Urge Obama to Rethink Syria Policy

The bipartisan group says boosting humanitarian efforts is no longer enough.

Women shout slogans during a demonstration gathering activists, including Syrians living in Turkey, opposed to Syria's regime of President Bashar al-Assad after the Friday prayers on July 29, 2011 in front of the Syrian consulate in Istanbul. Assad's forces have killed at least 1,486 civilians since the anti-regime uprising began in mid-March, according to rights groups. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Jordain Carney
March 14, 2014, 3:19 p.m.

As the three-year an­niversary of Syr­ia’s civil war ap­proaches, a bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors has a mes­sage for Pres­id­ent Obama: It’s time for a new strategy on Syr­ia.

Nine sen­at­ors used a let­ter on Fri­day to urge the pres­id­ent to “press for­ward” with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “reex­am­in­a­tion” of its policy, adding that while they have backed hu­man­it­ari­an aid ef­forts, “events on the ground are prov­ing that this is not enough.”

The let­ter was signed by Sens. Robert Men­en­dez, D-N.J.; Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn.; Carl Lev­in, D-Mich.; James In­hofe, R-Okla.; Tim Kaine, D-Va.; John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz.; Chris­toph­er Coons, D-Del.; Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C.; and An­gus King, I-Maine.

Des­pite fre­quent con­gres­sion­al grid­lock, they write, they “be­lieve there is still strong, bi­par­tis­an sup­port in the Sen­ate for de­vel­op­ing and im­ple­ment­ing a com­pre­hens­ive Syr­ia strategy” that could pave the way for Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad to be re­moved from power and let mod­er­ate op­pos­i­tion groups lead dur­ing the trans­ition to a new gov­ern­ment.

But the sen­at­ors are vague on de­tails of what that strategy should en­tail, writ­ing in­stead that the “cur­rent bal­ance of power” needs to be changed so that As­sad “no longer be­lieves he can re­main Syr­ia’s ruler.”

They add that the mod­er­ate op­pos­i­tion forces and the Syr­i­an Op­pos­i­tion Co­ali­tion — a band of op­pos­i­tion groups — should be giv­en “en­hanced sup­port” to help “sus­tain their mo­mentum and pre­vent the es­tab­lish­ment of ter­ror­ist safe havens throughout north Syr­ia.”

Kaine, Men­en­dez, and King also backed a res­ol­u­tion in­tro­duced Thursday that calls for an in­crease in hu­man­it­ari­an ac­cess and a de­crease in vari­ous forms of vi­ol­ence. The res­ol­u­tion also calls for the pres­id­ent to present a strategy to Con­gress with­in three months that deals with how the United States is go­ing to tackle Syr­ia’s hu­man­it­ari­an needs and deal with hu­man-rights vi­ol­a­tions with­in the coun­try and the re­gion.

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