From covert to overt means of arming Syrian opposition

Saudi Arabia has agreed to an American request to provide a base to train Syrian opposition fighters, American officials said on Wednesday.
“We now have the commitment from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be a full partner in this effort — the train-and-equip program — to host that program,” said a senior Obama administration official, who added that discussions were underway to determine the specific site and other details.
Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to fly to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday morning for a high-level strategy session.
The meeting that is being hosted by the Saudis will also include senior officials from Arab states in the Persian Gulf region, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
A US State Department official said regional defense ministers would meet soon to discuss expanded basing and overflight rights so the United States and other nations could broaden airstrikes.
Plans for training and arming Syrian rebels so they can confront ISIS and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus are also expected to be discussed in Jidda.
“We are in a position, I think, to be pretty specific with the Saudis about what we’d like,” a senior State Department official said, referring to the training and arming effort. “We’re fairly confident they will be forward leaning on this.”
The White House said in a statement that President Obama called King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and that the two leaders “had agreed on the need for increased training and equipping of the moderate Syrian opposition.”
The Saudis, who have grave concerns that ISIS may present a threat to the stability of the kingdom, are emerging as a key member of the anti-ISIS coalition the Obama administration is trying to form because of their financial resources and Islamic regional credentials.
The replacement of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as Iraq’s prime minister has made it easier for the Saudis to cooperate with Iraq. King Abdullah had complained that Mr. Maliki was untrustworthy and too much under the influence of Iran in a 2009 conversation with John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director who was then serving as Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, according to a cable made public by WikiLeaks.
To the dismay of the Saudis, Mr. Obama had refrained from carrying out airstrikes last year after forces loyal to Mr. Assad used chemical weapons.
Mr. Obama appears to have opened the door to airstrikes in Syria and is asking Congress to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in funds so the Pentagon can train and arm Syrian rebels.
On Wednesday, John Kerry held a whirlwind series of meetings in Baghdad with Haider al-Abadi, the new Iraqi prime minister, and other top Iraqi officials.
Their plan is intended to rebuild the fighting capability the Iraqi government lost after many of its soldiers deserted or quit fighting in the face of the ISIS onslaught.

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