Clinton worried Russia may send Syria helicopters

US views Russian claims that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict as "patently untrue."

President Peres and US Secretary of State Clinton 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
President Peres and US Secretary of State Clinton 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
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.
“We are 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 citizens.
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 deal.
Clinton said she consulted with Annan last week on his plan.
“The red line for us was the inclusion of Iran,” she noted.
“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 anonymity.
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 intervention.
“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.”
He 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 option.
“Assad stopped being an alternative,” declared Peres.
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.
That 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 Freedom.
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 Monday.
Afterwards, he met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to discuss major regional issues including Syria, Iran and the Arab Spring.
“As a 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.”
He added, “These basic values are at the core of the US-Israel relationship.”