Unless the bloodshed in Syria stops, the region could descend into a chaotic sectarian conflict, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday, as he called for an urgent political resolution to the war that has dragged on for two years and claimed 93,000 lives.
The top U.S. diplomat and his counterparts from 10 Arab and European nations agreed at a daylong meeting in Qatar to step up military and other assistance to the Syrian rebels. But Kerry would not disclose details of the aid, saying only that it would re-balance the fight between the rebels and President Bashar Assad’s better-equipped forces that increasingly are backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters.
“The continued bloodshed at the hands of the Assad regime and the increasing involvement of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, threaten the very prospects of a political settlement and of peace,” Kerry said, adding that the U.S. and other nations are not backing the rebels to seek a military victory in Syria.
“We do so to ... find a political settlement,” he said. “Reliable civilian governance and a stronger and more-effective armed opposition will better enable the opposition to be able to provide the counterweight to the initiative of Assad to reach out across borders ... to bring Iranians and to bring Hezbollah — again, a terrorist organization — to the table.”
Rebels say they already have received new weapons from allied countries— but not the U.S. — that they claim will help them to shift the balance of power on the ground where regime forces have scored recent military victories. Experts and activists said the new weapons include anti-tank missiles and small quantities of anti-aircraft missiles.
“Our information from Doha says that five countries have decided to start arming us immediately, and four other countries will give us logistical and technical support and, at a later stage, arm the Free Syrian Army,” a spokesman for the opposition fighters, Loay AlMikdad, said in an interview with Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV. He said the nations were both Arab and non-Arab, but he would not elaborate.
Doha was the first stop on Kerry’s two-week trip through the Mideast and Asia. He is to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues today and Monday with Indian officials in New Delhi — just one stop on a seven-nation tour where he will tackle prickly U.S. foreign policy issues — from finding peace between the Israelis and Palestinians to trying to gain traction on U.S. talks with the Taliban to end the Afghanistan war.