DEAD SEA — Washington is ready to provide Jordan with Patriot missiles, a senior US senator said on Saturday, as one of a series of steps to prevent the Syrian conflict from spilling over into the country.
According to US Senator John McCain, his country is set to fulfil a request by Jordan for Patriot missile batteries to place along its shared border with Syria.
“We are prepared to take every step to protect the Jordanian regime’s stability, its people and its territory; the provision of Patriot missiles comes under this protection,” McCain told The Jordan Times on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum which opened on the shores of the Dead Sea on Saturday.
McCain, who serves on the influential US senate armed services and foreign relations committees, said the missiles’ dispatch may serve as the “first step” to the establishment of proposed safe zones within Syria.
“With the use of patriot missiles we can enforce and sustain a no-fly zone to allow the opposition an opportunity to organise and change the tide of the conflict as we did in Libya,” McCain said.
The senator refused to confirm whether Jordan’s shared border with Syria would serve as one of the potential locations for the proposed buffer zones allegedly being considered by Washington.
In an interview last week, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour acknowledged that Amman has recently requested Washington to provide Jordan with Patriot missile batteries to install along the country’s 370-kilometre border with Syria in order to prevent a spillover of encroaching violence.
The statement came as Damascus continued with a month-long sweeping military offensive across the southern region that has seen Syrian regime forces retake several key rebel strongholds and the firing of dozens of errant missiles into Jordanian territory.
The proposed missile batteries would be used solely for defensive purposes, Jordanian officials say.
Meanwhile, McCain and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez called for a widening of support for Syrian rebels to pressure Damascus to enter negotiations with opposition forces ahead of a Syria peace summit next month.
During a press conference on Saturday, the two senators called for immediate military support for rebel forces in order to “change the situation on the battlefield” and even a military balance they claim is increasingly tipping towards Damascus’ favour.
“Unless you change the tipping point, right now you have a situation that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad believes he can somehow sustain himself through a war of attrition — and that makes a political solution difficult to achieve,” said Menendez.
As part of the proposed widened support, the senators called for increased arms supplies, air strikes against regime positions and even the establishment of Libya-style no-fly zones to provide rebel forces with safe havens inside Syria.
The senators, who met with His Majesty King Abdullah earlier on Saturday, urged for setting military “consequences” to Assad’s refusal to enter peace talks with opposition forces, warning that should Damascus continue its recent string of military successes the upcoming peace summit in Geneva will be rendered a “failure”.
The senators’ highlighted growing support in Washington for the use of air power against Syrian regime forces, citing the effectiveness of the recent Israeli strikes outside Damascus in the heart of the country.
“The Israelis have proven that you can strike targets anywhere in Syria with relative impunity — you can destroy Assad’s runways, his air power with Patriot batteries,” McCain noted.
Under the proposed no-fly zones, multilateral forces would use air power to establish regions free of regime control to allow opposition forces to mobilise and govern, they said, ruling out the possibility of Washington sending troops to Syria.
“Right now you will find no support for having boots on the ground,” McCain said.
During his participation in the Friends of Syria conference in Amman last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that Washington is leaving “all options on the table” short of the dispatch of troops regarding a possible intervention in Syria.
The senators highlighted Washington’s growing concerns that the conflict is destabilising Syria’s neighbours such as Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, underlining the social and economic burdens the growing Syrian refugee crisis is placing on the region.
“The US is committed to assisting Jordan in dealing with the economic impact it’s having due to the Syrian crisis and we call on the international community, particularly the Arab states, to follow suit and assist the Kingdom,” McCain said, noting that the Syrian refugee community now represents some 10 per cent of Jordan’s population.
Some 540,000 of the 1.5 million Syrians who have fled their home country have crossed into Jordan, a number UN officials expect to surpass 1.2 million by the end of the year.