U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vowed on Thursday to step-up U.S. backing of armed opponents of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as part of an 11-nation "redoubled" effort that critics warn will bring further military escalation to the war-torn country.
"The U.S. says over and over that there is no military solution in Syria, yet their whole strategy is to strengthen the armed opposition rather than the unarmed opposition," said Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams. "The way to do that would be to move with Russia to demand an immediate ceasefire, immediate arms embargo on both sides, and immediate return to negotiations."
Kerry made the comments to reporters at a Friends of Syria meeting in London, attended by representatives of the "London 11" nations backing armed opposition to Assad: the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt. Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, also participated in the meeting.
Kerry said that the nations present agreed to "redouble our efforts, all of us, in support of the moderate opposition." His statement echoed a communiqué released Thursday by the London 11 countries, which states, "We have agreed unanimously to take further steps together, through a coordinated strategy, to: increase our support for the moderate opposition National Coalition, its Supreme Military Council and associated moderate armed groups."
Kerry sidestepped questions about plans to ship more arms to Syria. "On the issue of weapons, I’m not going to discuss what specific weapons, what country may or may not be providing or not providing – as you know, we’re providing nonlethal aid," he stated. "But I will say that out of today’s meeting every facet of what can be done is going to be ramped up. Every facet, and that includes political effort. It includes the aid to the opposition. It includes economic efforts, sanctions."
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Saudi Arabia is widely believed to be leading the effort to send weapons to armed opposition forces.
While Kerry only referenced "nonlethal" U.S. aid to Syria, evidence suggests the U.S. is green-lighting shipments of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and is directly involved in training Syrian fighters.
Kerry's statements came just days after UN Syria Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi stepped down from his position, expressing frustration and sadness over failed negotiations in statements to the media.
According to Bennis, "Brahimi's resignation speaks to the failure of the U.S., Russia, and the regional partners of the two sides, including Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel—all of whom are engaged in militarizing and escalating conflict."
She added, "The resignation of Brahimi cannot be an excuse to give up on diplomacy."