Menendez offers bill to arm Syrian rebels

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Monday introduced a bill that would provide arms to vetted rebel groups.

Menendez’s legislation would give arms and military training to opposition groups that had been vetted, as well as provide $250 million for basic services and security in a post-Assad Syria.

The bill also includes new sanctions against those providing arms or oil to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Menendez’s bill comes as the Obama administration is reconsidering its opposition to providing arms to the Syrian rebels. Administration officials said last week they are reconsidering that step in the wake of evidence that Assad’s forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack.

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Menendez said last month that he supported arming the Syrian opposition, as a growing number of lawmakers urged the Obama administration to take more aggressive action in Syria.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel, introduce legislation last month that would also give arms to vetted rebel groups.

The White House in a letter to lawmakers two weeks ago disclosed evidence of a chemical attack. This has only spurred more calls for the United States to get involved militarily in Syria.

There are concerns, however, that the arms could fall into the wrong hands, because the Syrian opposition is splintered and reportedly includes groups with al Qaeda ties.

Last year, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former CIA Director David Petraeus crafted a plan to provide arms to vetted opposition groups, but it was rejected by the White House.