Kerry Says U.S. Will Double Aid to Rebels in Syria

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ISTANBUL -- Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday morning that the United States would double its aid to the Syrian opposition, providing $123 million in fresh assistance.

Mr. Kerry made the announcement at a meeting with foreign ministers from Western and Middle Eastern nations that was convened here to decide how to help the opposition in Syria's bitter civil war, which has killed more than 70,000 people.

A portion of the new American aid, the State Department said, will help provide additional "nonlethal" supplies to the military wing of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, an umbrella organization formed in November to unite the various rebel groups that have been trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad for two years.

American officials did not specify the items to be sent, saying that will be determined in consultation with the coalition. But the Obama administration has been considering providing military equipment like body armor and night-vision goggles.

"This conflict is now spilling across borders and is now threatening neighboring countries," Mr. Kerry said during a news conference he held with Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian coalition, and Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister. "The president directed me to step up our efforts."

A major goal of the meeting here was to buttress the role of moderates within the opposition forces and to isolate extremist groups like the Nusra Front, which the United States has said is affiliated with Al Qaeda. That entailed finding consensus among supporting nations about how military assistance should be channeled to the rebels.

Toward that end, the foreign ministers decided that all future military assistance would be funneled "exclusively" through the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the coalition. This procedure is intended to address the concern that some of the opposition's financial backers in Persian Gulf states have been less particular than Western nations about the rebel factions they support.

Another goal was to secure a new commitment from the Syrian opposition coalition that it is prepared to enter into a negotiation over a political transition to a post-Assad Syria, if one can ever be organized, and that a post-Assad government would be a democracy in which the rights of minorities would be protected.

At the end of the meetings, the Syrian coalition issued a declaration stating that it is "aiming at a political solution," rejected extremism, and said that a post-Assad Syria would be pluralistic and based on the rule of law.

During a closed-door session, General Salim Idris, the head of the opposition's command, gave a presentation to the foreign minister that was intended to show that he had a functioning chain of command and that military aid the Syrian opposition received would be used properly.

The new aid Mr. Kerry announced on Sunday would be in addition to the food rations and medical supplies that the United States pledged to provide to the military wing of the Syrian resistance at a conference in late February in Rome. That assistance is scheduled to be provided by April 30.

With the pledge of fresh aid, the total amount of nonlethal assistance from the United States to the coalition and civic groups inside the country is $250 million. During the meeting here, Mr. Kerry urged other nations to step up their assistance, with the objective of providing $1 billion in international aid.

Despite this, the assistance promised at the meeting fell well short of the military help the Syrian opposition has long sought. In a statement issued before the meeting, the coalition asked for several steps, including airstrikes to stop the Syrian government from firing Scud missiles, the establishment of a no-fly zone along Syria's northern and southern borders, and a United Nations resolution condemning the Syrian government for what the opposition claims is its use of chemical weapons.

Still, diplomats said that the agreement on how to channel military aid to the opposition and the political assurances by the Syrian opposition provided a foundation for expanding international assistance if Mr. Assad refused to yield power.

"These things are very important for many countries to be able to expand the assistance they give," said William Hague, the British foreign secretary.

The embargo on sending arms to Syria that was imposed by the European Union will come up for renewal at end of May.

"We are already stepping up our assistance," a Turkish official said. If Mr. Assad refuses to step aside, he added, "what comes next is further expansion of this assistance."

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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