US Republican candidates push for civil war in Syria

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US Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney listens as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R) speaks during the Republican presidential candidates debate in Mesa, Arizona, 22 February 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Joshua Lott)

Published Thursday, February 23, 2012

US Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on Wednesday lent their support to the idea of arming the Syrian opposition in its fight to topple President Bashar Assad, which would undoubtedly plunge the country into civil war.

Speaking at a CNN debate in Mesa, Arizona, Romney said the United States needed to team up with allies to help the rebels.

"We need to work with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, 'You guys provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria,'" the former Massachusetts governor said.

The Republican seen most likely to face President Barack Obama in November's presidential election, Romney said such support was needed to turn Syria away from Iran at a critical time when Tehran was possibly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

"If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we'll finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back," Romney said.

He added that the United States should make it clear that military action would be taken if Iran pursued nuclear weapons.

The Republicans' comments are sure to validate concerns in Moscow and Beijing that the West and its Gulf Arab allies are pushing Syria into civil war to overthrow Assad and severely weaken the country's status as a regional power.

There were signs earlier this week that the Obama administration may be opening the door to eventually arming the Syrian opposition if a political solution to the conflict proves impossible.

But a White House spokesman cautioned that such action could further contribute to the militarization of Syria and lead it down a dangerous path, although the administration did not rule out additional measures.

US opponents of arming the rebels worry that the anti-Assad forces are too divided and say it is not clear who is in charge.

Speaking at the debate, Gingrich said that US allies – which he did not name – were covertly helping destroy the Assad regime, and that there were weapons available in the region to arm the opposition.

"There are plenty of Arab-speaking groups that would be quite happy. There are lots of weapons available in the Middle East," he said, taking a swipe at the Obama administration's policy on Syria.

"This is an administration which, as long as you're America's enemy, you're safe. You know, the only people you've got to worry about is if you're an American ally."

The United States and its allies hope that a conference in Tunis this week will allow them to begin drawing up a plan for Syria after Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed Arab League peace plan at the UN Security Council.

Russia said it will not attend the Tunis meeting, while China has yet to make a decision.

The last Republican to head a US government, George W. Bush, plunged the Middle East into chaos with an ill-fated invasion of Iraq in 2003 that ultimately reduced the once powerful Arab state to rubble, igniting internal strife.

The Bush administration also gave Israel the green light to launch a war on Lebanon in 2006, destroying much of the country, but failing in its goal to annihilate Hezbollah.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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