By Meghashyam Mali - 02/27/13 01:21 PM EST
The White House is considering plans to extend direct aid to Syrian rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad, according to a report.
The move, first reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, would be a major policy shift for the administration, which has been reluctant to provide any military assistance to the Syrian opposition.
The Obama administration has faced pressure from many lawmakers to do more to help forces battling Assad, but the White House has expressed fears that military hardware could fall into the hands of Islamist insurgents.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earlier this month called Syria one of the “most shameful chapters” in U.S. diplomatic history and said it was “disgraceful” that Obama was not doing more to aid the insurrection.
The contentious issue has also led to splits within the administration, with former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta telling lawmakers during a hearing that he and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had backed providing arms to rebels last year. That push, though, was overruled by the president.
The report also comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is in Europe this week, where he will attend a summit with members of the Syrian opposition to discuss efforts to bring a peaceful end to the civil war.
Syrian opposition leaders had threatened to boycott this week’s summit, expressing frustration that Western powers were not doing enough to aid their fight. But the leaders agreed to sit down for multilateral talks after Kerry made public and private pleas asking them to join multilateral talks.
The Syrian regime on Monday also said that they would be open to peace talk with the rebels, but the Obama administration has questioned their sincerity and insisted that any agreement must be preconditioned on Assad leaving power.
"That future cannot include Bashar al-Assad, who has long since forsaken any opportunity he might have had to participate in Syria’s future,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday. “He has so much blood on his hands. He has been engaging in a prolonged assault on his own people that has cost tens of thousands of lives, of innocent civilian lives."