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McCain in Syria; EU to lift weapons embargo

The Associated Press

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) quietly slipped into Syria for a meeting with rebels fighting President Bashar Assad's regime Monday while the European Union voted to lift an embargo on sending arms to the opposition.

The EU's decision, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after an all-day meeting in Brussels, "sends a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime."

Hague insisted that Britain had "no immediate plans to send arms to Syria. It gives us flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate." No other EU member appeared to have immediate plans to send arms to the rebels. The EU also decided to maintain its sanctions against the Syrian government.

A McCain spokeswoman, Rachael Dean, confirmed the visit. She declined further comment about the trip.

McCain has been a leading proponent of arming the rebels and other aggressive military steps against the Assad regime. He has criticized Obama administration policy there while stopping short of calling for U.S. ground troops in Syria.

Two years of violence in Syria have killed more than 70,000 people. President Barack Obama has demanded that Assad leave power, while Russia has stood by Syria, its closest ally in the Arab world.

The White House did not respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment on McCain's trip.

Last Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to provide weapons to rebels in Syria, as well as military training to vetted rebel groups and sanctions against anyone who sells oil or transfers arms to the Assad regime. McCain is a member of the committee.

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