WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed Russia on Tuesday for
selling arms and military equipment to Syria, warning that new reports of
helicopter transfers would seriously heighten tensions there.
concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters
on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite
dramatically,” Clinton said while at an event with President Shimon Peres at the
Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
The US, she
said, has “confronted” Russia about stopping their continued arms shipments and
dismissed as “patently untrue” the Russian argument that their arms provisions
are unrelated to the force the government is using against its own
Russia’s military dealings with Syria have been a major cause
of concern for Israel, while the country has come under growing pressure from
other international actors for protecting Syrian President Bashar Assad from
more aggressive efforts to remove him from power even as his forces are accused
of butchering civilians.
Clinton’s words highlight the continuing breach
between the world powers, though she did reiterate American support for the
cease-fire plan worked out by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, which
includes a key role for Russia. So far Assad has not implemented the
Clinton said she consulted with Annan last week on his
“The red line for us was the inclusion of Iran,” she
“We thought that would be a grave error since we know that Iran is
not only supporting the Assad regime but actively mentoring, leading,
encouraging not merely the regular army, but the militias that are springing up
and engaging in sectarian conflict.”
There are signs that some Arab countries are also not comfortable with the
concept of including the Iranians in the contact group.
“It’s a Syria
situation. It’s an Arab League situation. So the presence of Iran will create a
lot of problems, because you’re in one way saying that Iran holds a key in
Syria, and that is not acceptable,” said one Arab official in Washington, who
was not at the Saban Center.
At the same time, he indicated that the
Annan program – which expires in mid-July if UN members choose not to renew it –
must have a deadline for success.
“It has to have a timeline. It can’t be
open-ended,” the official said, speaking on condition of
Peres, too, said the Arab countries should be the main actors
in resolving the situation in Syria and argued for stronger activism by the Arab
League, which has called for action but has expressed concerns about foreign
“Let the Arabs do it. They are ready, let them take
responsibility,” he said. “Let us not accuse anybody that we are intervening –
let us support them in any way we can.”
In a direct message to the Arab
League, Peres told them: “Do it yourself and the UN will support you.”
added that while many in Syria and the region were worried about what the
alternatives were should Assad fall, keeping the strongman in power was not an
“Assad stopped being an alternative,” declared
Peres also said that the upheavals in the Arab world affecting so
many countries in the region had lessons for Palestinian leaders – including the
message that it might not be in their interest to wait for bold action, given an
empowered population that has a growing awareness of its own power.
awareness combined with Israel’s newly expanded coalition meant that “now it is
the time to make peace with the Palestinians,” according to the Nobel Peace
Prize laureate, who is in Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of
Peres described Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as
“a serious man.”
As part of Peres’s tour of Washington ahead of
Wednesday’s Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, the president was
received with an honor guard at the Pentagon soon after his arrival
Afterwards, he met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to discuss
major regional issues including Syria, Iran and the Arab Spring.
human being, as an Israeli, I want to express my deepest gratitude,” Peres told
Panetta, stating his admiration “for the only military force whose mission is
not to conquer and occupy, with a mission of values, not an appetite for power.
Your men and women lost their lives for highest and most noble values. You
didn’t keep anything for yourself.”
Panetta went on to congratulate Peres
on receiving the Medal of Freedom, which he called “a fitting recognition of
your life’s work” to “advance peace, human dignity and freedom.”
added, “These basic values are at the core of the US-Israel relationship.”