White House: 'No pressure' to alter Syria policy after McCain meets with rebels

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The White House denied Tuesday that a visit to Syria by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over the weekend puts any more pressure on the Obama administration to take a more forceful role in the 26-month civil war.


McCain has long called for the administration to arm vetted rebel groups and enforce a no-fly zone over rebel-controlled territory. He entered Syria from Turkey along with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army.

“I don't believe that his trip puts more pressure on us,” White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri told MSNBC. “All of the options … are what the administration is considering in terms of how we deal with Syria."

Palmieri said the White House and the State Department had gotten a head's up from McCain before his trip.

“Secretary [of State] John Kerry was in Russia over the weekend discussing the issue with his counterpart there, hoping to have some talks in Geneva about this,” Palmieri said, in reference to planned talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and the rebels next month under the auspices of the United Nations.

“So we continue to put a lot of thought, a lot of effort into it, and it's a constantly evolving evaluation on our part.”

The administration has long balked at getting more involved in the conflict, out of concern that it could inflame the region and that weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist militants. Congress, however, has run out of patience as the death toll tops 70,000 and last week, a key Senate panel voted overwhelmingly for a bipartisan bill to arm the rebels.

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