Hagel: WH Rethinking Opposition to Arming Syrian Rebels


The White House is reconsidering its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

While taking questions during a joint press conference with his British counterpart, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, Hagel told reporters that the administration is considering a range of options, though he is personally unsure what option to pursue.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the administration is considering providing lethal aid to the Syrian rebels after confirming that chemical weapons had been used there.

“We’re clearly on an upward trajectory,” a  senior White House official told the Washington Post. “We’ve moved over to assistance that has a direct military purpose.”

The White House has repeatedly said that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “redline” that would necessitate further action by the United States.

During a press conference Monday when he confirmed the use of chemical weapons, the president hedged from responsibility of further action in Syria, saying that “we don’t know how [the chemical weapons] were used, when they were used, who used them.”

Earlier this year, reports came out that the White House had rejected a plan to arm vetted opposition fighters that was proposed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former C.I.A. Director David H. Petraeus and was endorsed by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.

“This is not a closed decision,” a senior administration official told the New York Times in February. “As the situation evolves, as our confidence increases, we might revisit it.”

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have repeatedly called for plans to arm the Syrian rebels as part of a broader plan of assistance to help topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

During his presidential campaign Governor Mitt Romney suggested arming the Syrian rebels with heavy weaponry in order to combat against Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.