The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Kerry says US evaluating Syria options, won't weigh in on issue of giving arms to rebels

  • Print

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the United States is evaluating new options to halt Syria's civil war, but he refused to weigh into administration debates over whether to arm the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad's regime.

In his first news conference as secretary, Kerry said the Obama administration was looking at the crisis anew and hoping to find a diplomatic solution. But he sidestepped specifically addressing a question over providing military assistance to the anti-Assad opposition.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on Thursday that they had recommended offering military support to the rebels but were rebuffed by President Barack Obama.

"My sense right now is that everybody in the administration and people in other parts of the world are deeply distressed by the continued violence in Syria," Kerry told reporters alongside Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. "There's too much killing. There's too much violence. And we obviously want to try to find a way forward."

"We are evaluating now," he said. "We're taking a look at what steps, if any, diplomatic particularly, might be able to be taken in an effort to try to reduce that violence and deal with that situation."

Kerry's suggestion of a possible new American approach comes after Panetta and Dempsey gave the Senate a glimpse of the internal disagreements over how forcefully the U.S. should respond to violence that has killed some 60,000 people in the last two years. Both military leaders said they supported providing weapons to the rebels, but that the president made the final decision against such action.

Washington has struggled throughout Syria's civil war to come up with a policy that would help end the bloodshed and hasten Assad's departure. Obama called on the Syrian leader to leave power in August 2011, but the United States has refused to entertain any notion of military intervention by patrolling Syria's skies to prevent government airstrikes or by handing out advanced weaponry to Syrian rebels.

U.S. officials have noted that, unlike in Libya, there is no U.N. mandate for any direct American military involvement such as a no-fly zone. And officials believe any plan to provide weapons would only further militarize a conflict that needs to be resolved with some sort of political transition. There is also fear that if the weapons end up in the hands of terrorists and extremist groups they can later turn on nearby Israel or other U.S. allies and interests in the region.

Kerry said he wasn't privy to all the details of the administration's internal deliberations.

"I don't know what the discussions were in the White House and who said what, and I'm not going to go backward," Kerry said at the end of his first full week in his new job. "This is a new administration now, the president's second term, I'm a new secretary of state and we're going forwards from this point."

But Kerry underscored the numerous challenges hindering the possibility of a more activist approach, citing the threat of the rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra — the Obama administration has designated it a foreign terrorist organization — and the influx of fighters from al-Qaida in Iraq. "It is a very complicated and very dangerous situation," he said. "And everybody understands it is a place that has chemical weapons, and we are deeply concerned about that."

In the past months, several officials in the State Department, Defence Department and Central Intelligence Agency have said that giving weapons to carefully vetted rebels could help blunt the influence of extremists like al-Nusra among the rebel ranks. Such U.S. assistance, according to proponents, might also be remembered in a post-Assad Syria and provide the United States a new partner in a place that it has generally met hostility during the four decades of the Assad family dynasty.

The counterargument maintained that giving weapons posed too great a risk, according to other officials who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly about internal matters. The White House, in particular, was wary in the weeks preceding Obama's re-election and hasn't changed its mind because the nonextremist opposition still lacks cohesiveness and because there is no compelling national security reason for direct US weapons supplies.

It's unclear whether Kerry has formed his own opinion. Asked during his confirmation hearing last month about new options for Syria, he said he needed to first see the administration's contingency plans.

"What I do know is that there are a lot of weapons there," he said. "There are people in the Gulf, and you know who they are, who are not hesitating to provide weapons. And that's one of the reasons, together with the fact that al-Nusra has been introduced to the equation that the movement on the ground is faster than the movement in the politics."

Looking ahead to nuclear talks later this month between Iran and senior officials from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, Kerry warned Iran to come prepared to talk seriously about concerns over its nuclear program.

If Iran does what it needs to do to prove its nuclear intentions are peaceful, Kerry said the international community is prepared to respond positively. If not, he said Iran will only face increased international isolation.

Kerry reminded the Iranian leadership that Obama has taken no options off the table, including military force, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"Iran has a choice," he said. "They have to prove to the world that it is peaceful and we are prepared to sit responsibly and negotiate how they can do that and how we can all be satisfied."

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jets defencemen ready to face adversity

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose cools off Thursday in water at Omands Creek Park-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 25– June 21, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS June 23, 2011 Local - A Monarch butterfly is perched on a flower  in the newly opened Butterfly Garden in Assiniboine Park Thursday morning.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think it's a good idea for Theresa Oswald to enter NDP leadership race?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google