Nelson: Military action in Syria may be inevitable

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May 29th, 2012

Omaha, NE – U.S. Senator Ben Nelson is traveling through the Middle East during a critical time in the region this week. Days after a historic election in Egypt and a bloody massacre in Syria, Sen. Nelson met with key officials in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to discuss the turbulent situation.

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Sen. Nelson called the Syrian administration "toxic," after speaking with officials from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (Photo courtesy Nelson's Senate office)

The Nebraska Senator is traveling on a Congressional visit as a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee. Speaking to reporters from Saudi Arabia, Nelson said there is unanimous agreement in the region that Syrian President Bashar Assad must step down from power. “I don’t think there is anybody who’s looking at this today who thinks that he can stay, or that there are any circumstances where he can remain,” Nelson said.

Nelson called Assad’s administration “toxic” and said last week’s execution-style massacre of 108 people, including many women and children, show the regime cannot continue to “have the moral authority in the country.” Syria’s government has denied responsibility for the killings.

Nelson said he met with Saudi King Abdullah on Monday, and that his conversations with the influential leader indicate military intervention may be the next step. “I know that every effort will be made to have him leave office voluntarily, rather than through military intervention,” Nelson said. “On the other hand, my sense in talking to the Saudis is that if that is not successful then military action is inevitable.”

Nelson said Gulf nations are already discussing the possibility of military action, and the U.S. will continue its involvement in those discussions. He said no country is prepared to go alone, and if necessary, a coalition will form similar to that which helped oust Moammar Gadhafi from Libya.

Nelson added regime change in Syria could further isolate Iran and deter its alleged nuclear ambitions, and that severing the relationship between the two trading partners would “go a long way in restoring some stability in the region.”

A Syrian opposition fighter pictured in Homs, Syria on Feb. 24, 2012. (Photo credit Bo Yaser/Wikimedia)

Nelson also addressed last week’s election in Egypt: the first since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Revolutionaries who swept Mubarak out of power have protested the results, which split the opposition and left two polarizing candidates vying for a run-off. But Nelson said the elections appeared to have been free and fair. “There are always allegations, and this apparently was no exception,” Nelson said. “But I believe those allegations have already been handled and dismissed.”

Nelson said judging from the conversations he had with members of the Egyptian military, “I don’t see how those allegations could have any substance.”

The two candidates remaining are a former prime minister of the old Mubarak regime and a conservative Islamist of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nelson said whoever wins next month’s run-off will be under pressure from his own country to continue a strong relationship with the United States.

Nelson plans to return to the United States on Wednesday.

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