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Obama urged to consider no-fly zone in Syria

United States Senators Mark Udall, left, and John McCain attend the opening of the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. Delegates will be discussing pressing security issues, including the impact of the American presidential election, the turmoil in Syria, cybersecurity and modern warfare.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Key U.S. Senators, including an influential Democrat are calling on President Barack Obama to consider establishing a no-fly zone in Syria.

The Obama Administration has so far been extremely reluctant to consider any form of direct intervention in the Syrian conflict, which has turned into an ugly civil war that has killed 39,000.

But with the presidential election now over, he's facing renewed calls to take more muscular steps to thwart the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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"Now that our election is over, I urge the Obama Administration to consider every option. The status quo is not acceptable," said Senator Mark Udall, as he attended the Halifax International Security Forum. "The no-fly zone proposal is worthy of some thoughtful consideration."

That statement, from a leading Democrat who sits on both the Senate's Armed Services committee and its Intelligence committee, suggests there may be a new political willingness to intervene – albeit in a limited way.

Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, is holding consultations with his senior cabinet ministers to consider options for Syria, including a no-fly zone.

Leading Republican Senator John McCain, also in Halifax for the security conference hosted by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, has long pressed for the administration to back a no-fly zone. Now, Democratic counterparts are insisting something must be done.

Mr. McCain argued that Mr. al-Assad's regime is increasingly forced to really on airpower – planes and attack helicopters – to strike the Free Syrian Army and other rebels.

"Unless something changes in the dynamic in Syria, it's very likely that this conflict will be extended for a long period of time – given the Iranian involvement, the Russian arms, and the continued recalcitrance of Bashar Assad," he said. "It seems to me that that dynamic should be changed."

U.S. military leaders have warned that establishing a no-fly zone would require strikes to take out Syria's air defences, to ensure that Western planes could fly over Syrian airspace and fire on regime aircraft that attack rebels.

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However, Mr. McCain insisted that a no-fly zone could be established simply by stationing U.S. patriot missiles on Turkey's border with Syria, which could hit Syrian aircraft.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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