Obama, Syrian opposition leader meet to renew commitments

 

President Obama met with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba at the White House on Tuesday, and the U.S. looked to bolster support for the Syrian opposition, which has suffered significant recent losses in the ongoing and bloody civil war that has engulfed the country.

“Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to a political solution to the conflict that includes a transition to a new governing authority,” the White House said in a statement. “President Obama welcomed the Coalition’s leadership and constructive approach to dialogue, and encouraged the Coalition to further its vision for an inclusive government that represents all of the people of Syria.”

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Last week, the State Department approved the Syrian opposition to open a formal diplomatic mission in Washington and announced that it was increasing its nonlethal assistance to the resistance by $27 million. In total, the U.S. has provided some $287 million in nonlethal aid to support the moderate opposition fighting Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

But according to The New York Times, al-Jarba was expected to press the president to step up that aid, including a request for antiaircraft missiles.

The United States so far has denied that it is sending lethal aid to the rebel groups on the ground in Syria, with administration officials expressing concern that weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Earlier Tuesday, press secretary Jay Carney sidestepped questions about whether opposition leaders had assuaged those concerns.

“We provide significant assistance, and we’re committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition,” Carney said. “But we’re also not going to catalogue or detail every single type of the assistance that we provide. But when we provide that assistance, we make sure that the recipients of it are vetted and that they are members of the moderate opposition.”

Still, the meeting between Obama and al-Jarba came as the Assad regime appeared to be tightening its grip on Syria. Last week, rebels in the central city of Homs abandoned their positions after striking a deal with the Assad regime. In recent months, chlorine gas was reportedly deployed on the battlefield.

And on Tuesday, U.N. envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi resigned after two years of attempting to strike a peace deal, another troubling sign for U.S. hopes of a negotiated solution that would remove Assad from power.

Carney acknowledged that the “conflict has gone on far too long and has cost far too many lives,” but pointed to the removal of 92 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons as a foreign policy victory.

In the meeting Tuesday afternoon, Obama offered his condemnation of the Assad regime’s “deliberate targeting of Syrian civilians through aerial bombardments — including the use of barrel bombs — and the denial of food and humanitarian assistance to civilians located in areas under siege by the regime.”

“President Obama and Ambassador [Susan] Rice emphasized the illegitimacy of the regime’s plans to hold elections and underscored that the United States stands with the moderate opposition and the Syrian people in their efforts to end the conflict and facilitate a political transition,” the White House said.