Obama keeps mum on US military aid to Syrian rebels
Published Wednesday, June 19, 2013
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday refused to specify the exact nature of new US military aid to Syrian rebels, despite signals from top US officials that they will be receiving small arms and ammunition.
Obama’s silence comes as Syria's main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said Wednesday that any political solution to the conflict must lead to the fall of the Syrian government.
The National Coalition's statement comes after G8 leaders said they were "committed to achieving a political solution" to the Syrian conflict.
Meanwhile, Obama said at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he "cannot and will not comment on specifics on our programs related to the Syrian opposition.”
Obama has refused to publicly specify exactly how Washington will increase aid to the Syrian opposition, after his government said it would offer military support for the first time after the US claimed to have proof that President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons.
Previously Obama had warned against pouring more weapons into the conflict and had kept US aid limited to humanitarian and non-lethal supplies.
The US president also said in Berlin that reports in the United States that escalating American support to the rebels meant the White House was now on a slippery slope to a new Middle East entanglement were mistaken.
He said reports were "overcranked" when suggesting the US was heading into a new Middle Eastern war.
"What we want to do is end a war," he said, calling again for a political transition in Syria that does not include Assad.
In a statement released Wednesday, the SNC said it was "committed to any political solution that puts an end to the bloodshed, and achieves the Syrian people's aspirations to bring down the Assad regime.”
The group added it "reserves the right to use all means at its disposal" to bring Assad down, "chiefly military action."
"In order to achieve a lasting peace in Syria, efforts by all countries should be focused on fighting the regime alone," it added.
World powers remain at odds about how to handle the Syrian crisis, which dominated the Group of Eight conference this week but led to no political breakthroughs. The United States wants Assad removed and has promised to arm the rebels, while Russia, the Syrian leader's main arms supplier, opposes these policies.
Their disagreements have complicated their joint efforts to bring the Syrian government and opposition together for proposed "Geneva 2" peace talks, now not expected to start before August.
Syria's 27-month-old conflict began as a protest movement, but has evolved into a civil war that has killed more than 90,000 people according to UN estimates.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)