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Menendez: Time to 'tip the scales' in Syria

Published On: Jun 16 2013 12:48:50 PM CDT   Updated On: Jun 16 2013 01:56:26 PM CDT
Senator Robert Menendez D New Jersey

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The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday President Barack Obama was making a sound call in his decision to provide military support to Syrian rebels and suggested such support should include taking out Syrian government airstrips.

"The reality is, we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that any involvement would best be done with U.S. partners in Europe and in the Gulf region.

"A lot of what we can see done can be done through our allies," he said.

While the Obama administration has not detailed what military support it plans to give the rebels, Washington officials have told CNN that support includes arms, ammunition, and possibly anti-tank weapons.

Obama's pledge Saturday to sanction Syria and support its rebels came in a conference call with European leaders about Damascus' chemical warfare.

His talk with the leaders of Britain, France, Italy and Germany came before next week's Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland. The five leaders discussed "ways to support a political transition to end the conflict" in Syria, the White House said.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, however, said the president's decision is "a day late and a dollar short."

"What is the US-National interest there and what are our objectives? And the administration has turned it all on the question on the use of chemical weapons against some of the rebels, but I'm not sure that that's the justification for US military action," he told CNN. "It may well be that the time has passed when we can be effective. So we'll have to see what happens. It's a tough problem, admittedly."

A major concern is the fact that the Syrian opposition includes some extremist elements and militants with pro-al Qaeda sympathies.

But Menendez said intelligence officials have been able to isolate the "vetted, moderate elements" among the rebel forces, and last month the foreign relations committee approved a measure calling to arm those elements.

Another possibility includes "ripping up airfields so that (President Bashar al-Assad's) air force cannot take off."

"That's an example of a limited action that ultimately can produce big benefits," the senator told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

"You can't just simply send them a peashooter against a blunderbuss," he added. "Time is not on our side, and our vital national security interests will not be pursued."