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Bill Clinton urges Syria action - report

14 June 2013, 11:10

Washington - As the Obama administration considers whether to arm Syrian rebels, former President Bill Clinton increased pressure for a stronger US role in Syria's civil war, short of sending in US troops, according to a report.

"Nobody is asking for American soldiers in Syria," Clinton said, according to the report from the newspaper Politico published late on Wednesday.

"The only question is: now that the Russians, the Iranians and the Hezbollah are in there head over heels... should we try to do something to try to slow their gains and rebalance the power so that these rebel groups have a decent chance, if they're supported by a majority of the people, to prevail?"

Clinton made the remarks at a closed-press event earlier this week with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of the fiercest critics of President Barack Obama's unwillingness so far to provide direct military support to the rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The conflict has left at least 93 000 dead in a two-year fight, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The situation on the ground has changed dramatically in recent weeks, with Assad winning the open support of fighters from Hezbollah, the Shi'ite militia from neighbouring Lebanon. Assad also is backed by regional Shi'ite power Iran and Russia, which has used its veto to block UN Security Council action against him.

The comments from fellow Democrat Clinton increases pressure on Obama as his administration considers options on Syria at White House talks this week, including whether to arm the rebels.

Clinton said he agreed with McCain that the United States needed to intervene, according to the report by Politico, which said it obtained an audio recording from an attendee at the event for the McCain Institute for International Leadership held on Tuesday in New York.

Lame response

"Sometimes it's just best to get caught trying, as long as you don't over-commit - like, as long as you don't make an improvident commitment," Clinton said, according to the report.

He said several times it would be "lame" to point to opposition in polls or among US lawmakers as a reason not to intervene in a conflict, Politico said.

Obama has been reluctant to arm the rebels out of concern the weapons could fall into the wrong hands, and opinion polls back him, with some surveys showing as few as 10% of Americans in favour of intervention.

If the United States decides against arming the rebels, Arab and European states could step in.

Clinton's comments come just months after his wife Hillary left as US secretary of state. The White House had no immediate comment on the Politico report.

- Reuters


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