President Barack Obama’s administration has repeatedly said over the past few months that it won’t ship arms to Syria’s outgunned opposition, warning that doing so will only escalate the bloody conflict there. But the Washington Post reported Wednesday that the U.S. has been helping to coordinate shipments of “more and better weapons” to the rebels, with Persian Gulf nations picking up the tab.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland denied that Washington was playing any role in arming the rebels.
“With regard to any assertions with regard to lethal (aid), we are not involved in that,” she said at her daily briefing.
“The United States has made a decision to provide nonlethal support to civilian members of the opposition. This is things like medical equipment. This is communications, things to help them, first of all, deal with the humanitarian aspects but also to help them to communicate better so that they can plan and be ready for the period of transition that we expect and want to see in Syria,” she said.
So is Washington helping to coordinate arms shipments?
“We are obviously consulting with various states about the decisions that we’ve made, that they’ve made,” Nuland said, declining repeated opportunities to explicitly criticize countries that have opted to help arm the opposition. “This is a loose coordination mechanism.”
The Washington Post said that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states were providing “millions of dollars in funding each month” to arm the opposition.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney also seemed to tip-toe right up to the line of confirming that other countries are arming fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
“We continue to provide nonlethal support to the opposition. And while I can only speak for the United States, we know that others are pursuing different types of support, and I’d refer you to them to characterize the nature of their actions,” he told reporters.
Carney reiterated Obama’s support for a ceasefire plan crafted by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — even while acknowledging that the Assad regime has essentially ignored it.
“We continue to be very concerned about the violence in Syria by the failure of the Assad regime to fulfill any of its obligations under the Kofi Annan plan,” the spokesman said.
“We’ve been extremely blunt about the fact that we remain very skeptical of Assad’s intentions,” Carney said. “We will, when appropriate and as necessary, discuss next steps.”
“But we are now supporting the Annan plan, supporting that mission because it has brought about some positive developments, at the very least, a reduction, not an elimination, of violence. And … it embodies the best option here for the political transition that Syrians so desperately want,” Carney said.
Obama aides say that the deployment of U.N. observers on the ground has helped tamp down violence by Assad’s forces.
“If you look at the numbers of reported deaths day by day they are down since the monitors have started patrolling. Also generally the overall level of violence is down country-wide,” an Obama aide told Yahoo News on condition of anonymity.
“Obviously, though, the regime still has a long way to go to be considered in compliance with the Annan plan’s six points,” the aide said.
Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, highlighted the Washington Post article on his Twitter feed, commenting: “As usual, this Administration leads from behind.”
McCain has repeatedly called for the administration to arm Syria’s rebels.