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McCain: Time to help Syrian rebels growing short

WASHINGTON, June 2 (UPI) — The Syrian military has gained the upper hand in its campaign against anti-government rebels, a senior U.S. senator who recently visited Syria said Sunday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” time was no longer on the side of the rebels and the United States and its allies needed to ramp up their efforts to help them or face the prospects of a victory by President Bashar Assad.

“Remember all this talk we’ve had in the past year or two: It’s inevitable that Bashar Assad will fall? Well I think we can’t make that statement today,” said McCain, who made a secret trip to Syria last month to confer with rebel leaders.

McCain said most of the rebels were “good people who are fighting for freedom” but were facing a Syrian military being bolstered by Iranian and Russian arms and by troops from Hezbollah. The turning tide will likely mean the upcoming peace conference in Switzerland will only give Assad more time to continue his attacks.

“Anyone that believes that Bashar Assad is going to go to a conference in Geneva when he is prevailing on the battlefield; it’s just ludicrous to assume that,” McCain said.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said U.S. military options in Syria were limited. An air campaign to ground Assad’s air force, he said, would probably not be particularly effective in the grand scheme. “I think the issue is not a military issue; it’s the organizational and institutional coherence of the opposition military forces,” Reed told CBS. “The key here is a political resolution. That’s why the conference in Geneva is so critical, and it’s critical that the Syrian opposition attend.”

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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