Kerry Criticizes Iran and Russia for Shipping Arms to Syria

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the Syrian opposition is capable of properly handling the military support it receives.

"There is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not at some point in time fall into the wrong hands," Mr. Kerry said in a joint news conference in Riyadh with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. "But I will tell you this. There is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them, and the indication is that they are increasing their pressure as a result of that."

Mr. Kerry's comments follow a conference in Rome last week on the issue of building support for a coalition of opponents to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, which Mr. Kerry attended. He spoke to concerns that aid that was meant for the Western-backed group might be diverted into the hands of extremists.

While President Obama has decided that the United States will not provide arms to the rebels, Mr. Kerry announced last week that it would send food and medical supplies to the armed wing of the Syrian opposition. The United States has also been training a select cadre of Syrian rebels in Jordan under a covert program run by the C.I.A., officials have said.

Other nations are also sending aid to the rebels. Britain is expected soon to announce a package of nonlethal military assistance, which could include items like bulletproof vests, vehicles and night-vision equipment. Saudi Arabia has been financing a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and channeling them to fighters.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud, made it clear on Monday that Saudi Arabia had every intention of continuing to provide support to the rebels, though he did not discuss specifics.

"As for providing enough aid and security for the Syrians, Saudi Arabia will do everything within its capabilities to help in this," he said. "Morally, we have a duty to protect them."

Prince Saud said that Mr. Assad's military was purposely firing missiles at times of day when civilians might be gathering to receive food or medicine. "Nobody who has done that to his citizens can claim a right to lead a country," he said.

While relations between Mr. Kerry and Prince Saud seemed warm, the two diplomats did not discuss ways in which they might be coordinating efforts to aid the Syrian opposition, nor any differences over what to provide or to whom.

Iran and Russia have backed the other side in the conflict, providing extensive aid to forces loyal to Mr. Assad, a fact that the American and Saudi diplomats highlighted on Monday.

"Believe me, the bad actors, regrettably, have no shortage of their ability to get weapons from Iran, from Hezbollah, from Russia unfortunately, and that's happening," Mr. Kerry said.

He had a working lunch on Monday with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who was visiting Riyadh. President Obama and Mr. Kerry are planning to travel to Israel, Palestinian areas and Jordan in two weeks to hear ideas for trying to revive the Middle East peace effort.

Concerning Iran, whose nuclear program is a major worry for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations, Mr. Kerry repeated the American refrain that time was running out for a diplomatic solution, and that allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons would encourage nuclear proliferation and heighten tensions in the region.

"Talks will not go on for the sake of talks, and talks cannot become an instrument for delay that in the end make the situation more dangerous," Me. Kerry said. "So there is a finite amount of time."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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