US backs lifting EU ban on arming Syrian rebels

State Department spokesman says US supports move as it sends message to Assad that Western support for opposition increasing.

May 28, 2013 22:40
2 minute read.
Free Syria Army

Free Syria Army_390. (photo credit: Reuters)

WASHINGTON - The scrapping of an EU ban on arming Syrian rebels is helpful because it sends a message to Syria's President Bashar Assad that Western support for the opposition is increasing, a senior US State Department official said on Tuesday.

Governments in the EU allowed the weapons ban to expire on Monday after they failed to bridge their differences on the issue during negotiations in Brussels. France and Britain, the biggest supporters of scrapping the embargo, said they had not yet decided to arm rebel forces in Syria.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the United States supported the move.

"We do support the easing of the EU arms embargo as a part of the international community's efforts to demonstrate its full support for the Syrian opposition," Ventrell told reporters.

"It is helpful because it sends a message to the Assad regime that support for the opposition is only going to increase," Ventrell said, adding: "This gives the flexibility to specific EU member states to assist the opposition wherever each sees fit." The EU decision comes as fighting in Syria escalates, entangling neighbors such as Lebanon in the fighting that has killed an estimated 80,000 people. The United States and Russia have proposed a peace conference to end the bloodshed.

Ventrell said, however, the Obama administration still believes a negotiated political settlement is the most durable solution to the Syrian conflict.

He said Washington was reviewing its options on further assistance to the rebels, including whether to arm them.

"We have not made a decision one way or another, we continue to provide non-lethal weapons, but we continue to carefully review that and look at our options going forward." Meanwhile, Russia said on Tuesday it would deliver an advanced S-300 air defense system to Damascus despite U.S., French and Israeli objections, arguing it would help deter "some hotheads" intent on intervention in the conflict.

Ventrell called the move by Moscow "a mistake" while defending the EU's decision to support rebel forces.

"We have seen how the regime has used those arms," he said. "When we're talking about the opposition, that is a different group, and clearly they are people defending themselves in the face of an enormous onslaught and despicable violence."

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