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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 14th, 2013
06:06 PM ET

McCain: We need 'heavy weapons' and a 'safe zone' in Syria

Republican Senator John McCain has been arguing for intervention in Syria almost since the civil war began.

Now that the White House  has confirmed that Syrian forces used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war, the administration is ready to step up military support for the opposition.

McCain has repeatedly pushed the administration to arm Syrian rebels, and the Arizona senator told CNN Friday he is comfortable giving the rebels whatever weapons they need.

"I am absolutely convinced we need to have heavy weapons, both anti-tank and anti-air," said McCain.

The administration plans to provide small arms, ammunition, and potentially anti-tank weapons, two officials familiar with the matter told CNN Friday.

The weapons will come from the CIA, the officials said.

McCain said small arms support will not change anything.

"It may help prevent some of the slaughter that's going on. But as far as changing things dramatically, I'm afraid that it won't," said McCain.

The Pentagon is also not reviewing any new or updated options for a “no-fly” zone, Pentagon sources told CNN Friday.

Reacting to reports of a possible “limited no-fly zone,” one of the sources, a senior  Pentagon official, said “that idea makes no military sense.”

The official pointed out that even if U.S. planes monitored a “no-fly” zone along the Syrian-Jordanian border, the Syrian regime could attack targets in southern Syria using long range artillery or Scud missiles.

McCain strongly advocates for a “no-fly” zone, or a safe zone, in Syria.

"We have to establish a safe zone, move the Patriot missile batteries close, take out with cruise missiles their air assets and logistics on the ground, and establish that safe zone. Then we can change the equation on the ground, not before," said McCain.

What complicates any U.S. military support for the opposition in Syria is that many of the rebel fighters are militants with pro-al Qaeda sympathies, the same stripe of militants America has battled in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McCain said U.S.-provided weapons ending up in the hands of extremists "is the risk we take."

"But I think if we have a safe zone and move the opposition council in there and have them coordinate with the with the military, and they can much easier get the weapons to the right people and use it effectively," said McCain.

And while he continually pushes for more from this administration, McCain said doing something is better than letting things stand.

"The status quo is the worst of all options," said McCain.

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