'US officials say Obama ready to arm Syria rebels'

'Washington Post' reports US president preparing to send lethal arms to Syrian opposition amid reports of chemical weapons use.

US President Barack Obama 370 (R) (photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
US President Barack Obama 370 (R)
(photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
US President Barack Obama is preparing to send lethal arms to the opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday amid growing evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons.
The Post quoted the officials as saying political negotiations to oust Assad from power remains Obama's preferred option, but supplying weapons to rebels is one of several options under consideration.
According to the report, the Obama administration is pressuring Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop his support for Assad amid the reports he used chemical weapons. Obama is expected to make a decision on arming the opposition in the coming weeks, prior to a June meeting with Putin, the Post quoted officials as saying.
“We’re clearly on an upward trajectory,” the Post quoted a senior official as saying. “We’ve moved over to assistance that has a direct military purpose.”
Obama, the officials reportedly said, is considering a range of options including establishing a no fly zone in Syria.
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Obama cautioned against a rush to judgment on whether Syria used chemical weapons against its own people on Tuesday in a sign he is going to take a deliberate approach to a problem that could lead to US military action.
At a White House news conference, Obama said there is evidence chemical weapons were used inside Syria but "we don't know how they were used, when they were used, who used them" and "we don't have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened."
Obama said the Defense Department already has prepared options that might be available, which he declined to describe, in response to what would clearly be an "escalation" and a "threat to the security of the international community, our allies and the Untied States."
He said it will take time to conclusively render a judgment on whether a US "red line" against the use of chemical weapons by Syria had been crossed, insisting that "I've got to make sure I've got the facts."
Obama is leery about launching military action against Syria without firm evidence, given that his predecessor, George W. Bush, began the Iraq war over claims of weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be untrue.
"If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in the position where we can't mobilize the international community to support what we do," he said.