Romney slams Obama Syria policy, calls for arming rebel forces

Mitt Romney called on President Obama Sunday to take "more assertive steps," including arming opposition forces against Syrian leader Bashar Assad, a day after reports emerged of a massacre involving civilians.

"The Assad regime’s massacre of civilians in Haoula—many of them young children—is horrific," the presumptive GOP nominee said in a statement. "After nearly a year and a half of slaughter, it is far past time for the United States to begin to lead and put an end to the Assad regime.


"President Obama can no longer ignore calls from congressional leaders in both parties to take more assertive steps," said Romney.

Obama has faced pressure from some lawmakers, led by Arizona Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances 20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home MORE (R) to provide greater assistance to opposition forces, including military aid.

Many administration officials though have expressed concern about weapons ending up in the hands of elements unfriendly to the United States or of intensifying violence in the year-long Syrian conflict. 

Efforts for a peaceful solution though were set back last month after the collapse of a U.N.-Arab League peace deal negotiated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, after Assad failed to adhere to the terms.  

"The Annan ‘peace’ plan — which President Obama still supports — has merely granted the Assad regime more time to execute its military onslaught," continued Romney in his statement. 

"The United States should work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves. The bloodshed in Haoula makes clear that our goal must be a new Syrian government, one that contributes to peace and stability in the Middle East and that truly represents the brave Syrian people.” he said.

A U.N. team said Saturday that more than 90 people were killed including at least 32 children in a village near the central Syrian city of Homs. Government forces have been blamed for the attack, yet the Assad regime has denied responsibility. 

Violence between anti-Assad forces seeking his ouster from power and the government has continued for over a year. 

Assad's forces have used heavy weaponry against the lightly-armed rebels, inflicting heavy casualties, often on civilians. 

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the White House was discussing a new plan with Russia to encourage Assad to step down, but which would allow much of his regime to remain in Syria. 

A similar arrangement was negotiated in Yemen and led to the exit of long-time ruler President Ali Abdullah Saleh last year.

The plan, however, would hinge on the support of Russia, which has close ties with the Assad regime and has blocked past U.N. efforts to increase pressure on him to relinquish power.