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Syria arms shipments held up by Congress

– The Obama administration’s month-old plan to arm opposition fighters in Syria has stalled as a result of congressional disagreements over whether and how to aid the rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad.

To the growing frustration of those who won a long and contentious internal administration debate over the issue of supplying arms, members of the Senate and House intelligence committees remain divided on the proposal to send light weapons and ammunition to the rebel forces. Although administration officials initially estimated that supplies would be distributed “within weeks,” delivery has not begun.

Briefings and personal calls to Capitol Hill this week from top-level officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan, have failed to shake strongly held views, according to administration officials and committee members.

“Congress has been pushing for months, asking for more aggressive actions in Syria. So it’s puzzling that when there’s actually a proposal on the table to do more, Congress is the one making it difficult to do so,” said an official familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing lawmakers.

Some want a more significant U.S. commitment, saying that the administration’s proposal is too little, too late. Others have voiced concerns that despite the administration’s assurances, U.S. weapons will fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting alongside the rebels.

A significant number of lawmakers reject any increased U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war and fear a slippery slope into another Middle East quagmire.

White House spokesman Jay Carney refused Wednesday to comment on the substance of the dispute over supplying arms. “The president said we would consult with Congress, and that’s what we’re doing,” Carney said.