US may arm Syrian rebels


Sat, May 04, 2013 - Page 7

The US said on Thursday it was taking a fresh look at whether to arm Syria’s rebels as the Damascus regime pressed an assault on opposition forces in the city of Homs.

After having rejected the idea previously, US President Barack Obama’s deputies were weighing the option of providing weapons to Syria’s outgunned opposition, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters.

Asked whether the US government was rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels, Hagel replied with a firm “Yes.”

However, Hagel said no decision had been reached and declined to offer his own view on the matter, saying he was “in favor of exploring options and seeing what is the best option in coordination with our international partners.”

Asked about Hagel’s comments later, Obama said they represented the view he has expressed for “months.”

“As we’ve seen evidence of further bloodshed, potential use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, what I’ve said is that we’re going to look at all options,” the US president told a press conference in Mexico.

“We want to make sure that we look before we leap and that what we’re doing is actually helpful to the situation, as opposed to making it more deadly or more complex,” he added.

Hagel’s comments came at a joint press conference with British Secretary of Defence Philip Hammond, who said that Britain had not ruled out arming the rebels or other military options.

However, Hammond said his government had to abide by a EU ban on sending weapons to the opposition, adding that Britain would “look at the situation” when the ban expires in a few weeks.

Both men said their governments wanted to see a political solution to the two-year-old conflict, but the diplomatic effort appeared on the verge of another setback with signs that UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi was poised to quit.

The permanent UN Security Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — have all been urging Brahimi to stay in the post he took up in August last year after former UN leader Kofi Annan quit, diplomats said.

One UN diplomat said Brahimi had already decided to step down.

“The decision has been taken, but we don’t know when it will be formalized,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Brahimi’s expected departure reflects frustration with deadlocked international efforts to end the civil war, which the UN estimates has killed more than 70,000 people.

In Syria, government forces appear to be closing in on rebels holed up in a key area of the city of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based watchdog.