Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 7 News List

US pledges US$27m more to Syrian rebels


The US said on Monday it would recognize the main opposition Syrian National Coalition offices as a diplomatic foreign mission and announced plans for a US$27 million increase in non-lethal assistance to rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The announcement came at the start of a visit to Washington by a Syrian opposition delegation led by Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) president Ahmad Jarba.

He is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry tomorrow.

Syrian government forces have made gains on the battlefield and Damascus has announced a presidential election for June 3, expected to be won by al-Assad. Washington has said the elections are not credible and US officials have denounced them as “phony.”

US Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said the representative offices of the coalition would now be considered a “foreign mission” under US law.

She said it was another move aimed at formalizing the relationship between Washington and the coalition, which until now has been represented by liaison offices in Washington and New York.

The change is largely symbolic and does not mean that the US is now recognizing the opposition as Syria’s government.

“This is not tantamount to recognition of the SOC as the government of Syria,” Harf told a daily briefing. “It’s a reflection of our partnership with the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

The upgrade would also facilitate banking and security services for the opposition in the US and help it reach out to Syrians living in the US, Harf added.

In a statement, Jarba said the new status was a diplomatic blow against al-Assad’s legitimacy.

“This is an important step in the path toward a new Syria, its recognition on the international stage, and its relations with Syrian nationals in the US,” Jarba said. “The new status provides a diplomatic platform for the Coalition to advance the interests of the Syrian people at all levels.”

The US Department of State suspended the operations of the Syria’s embassy in Washington and consulates in other US cities in March as efforts by the UN to broker a peace deal failed to make progress.

Diplomatic initiatives by the US and Russia to end the war have failed amid worsening relations between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine.

Russia is al-Assad’s main backer in the war, which is in its fourth year.

Harf said the Obama administration was working with the US Congress to increase non-lethal aid to the moderate opposition by US$27 million, bringing total assistance to about US$287 million.

The non-lethal aid has included medical aid and food rations, communications equipment and vehicles.

The assistance has fallen far short of rebel demands for more sophisticated antitank and antiaircraft weapons to turn the tables against al-Assad’s mostly Russian-supplied forces.

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