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Plan ahead for Syria transition, U.S. Senator Rubio says

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 21 Feb 2013 21:57 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Seeks to "empower" responsible Syria opposition

* Says must avoid repeat of Libya chaos

JERUSALEM, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The United States must ensure that a new Syrian leadership is well armed and can run the country after the fall of President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said on Thursday.

The Florida Republican, who is seen as a rising star on the right flank of his party, and who gave the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, spoke about Syria and Iraq during a visit to Israel.

"Our hope is to continue to ... (identify) responsible actors that will be responsible not just in this conflict but in the aftermath of this conflict and empower them so that they will become the best-organised, the best-funded, the best-armed, the best-equipped and the most capable post-Assad force on the ground in Syria," Rubio, 41, told a news conference.

He added that there should not be a repeat of the situation in Libya where rival militias wreaked havoc because no single force had been supported to take control after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

"Our hope is to learn ... from the Libyan experience where that didn't happen. We had all these dispersed militias (which) to this day have not come under central control," Rubio said.

Prospects of a negotiated peace in Syria have receded as the war becomes more overtly sectarian, making Western powers more wary of supporting the largely Sunni Muslim, and increasingly radicalised, rebellion.

After almost two years of unrest and civil war, some 70,000 people have been killed across Syria. The bloodshed has devastated the economy and left 2.5 million people hungry.

Rubio was an active campaigner for Mitt Romney's failed bid to unseat U.S. President Barack Obama, who won a second term in November.

Rubio nevertheless spoke in support of Obama's upcoming trip to the region towards the end of March and said there was cross-party support on foreign policy issues.

"I think what's most important about the President's visit is that he'll send a very clear signal that despite our many differences on many issues in the United States, there is a clear bipartisan support for a number of principles in foreign policy," Rubio said.

He outlined those issues as the perceived Iranian nuclear threat, the security of Israel and peacemaking with the Palestinians.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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