U.S. ADMINISTRATION OPENS DOOR TO AID FOR SYRIAN REBELS

Fox News on February 21, 2012, published an AP report that the American administration opened the door slightly on the 21st to international military assistance for Syria’s rebels, with officials saying new tactics may have to be explored if President Bashar Assad continues to defy pressure to halt a brutal crackdown on dissenters. Excerpts below:

In coordinated messages, the White House and State Department said they still hope for a political solution. But faced with the daily onslaught by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, officials dropped the administration’s previous strident opposition to arming anti-regime forces. It remained unclear, though, what, if any, role the U.S. might play in providing such aid.

“We don’t want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria because that could take the country down a dangerous path,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “But we don’t rule out additional measures if the international community should wait too long and not take the kind of action that needs to be taken.”

At the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland used nearly identical language to describe the administration’s evolving position.

Neither Carney nor Nuland would elaborate on what “additional measures” might be taken but there have been growing calls, including from some in Congress, for the international community to arm the rebels. Most suggestions to that effect have foreseen Arab nations such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — and not the West — possibly providing military assistance.

More than 70 countries have been invited to meet Friday in Tunisia for a “Friends of Syria” meeting. The meeting follows the failure of the UN Security Council to endorse an Arab plan that would have seen Assad removed from power.

The meeting of the “Friends of Syria” in Tunis is not likely to produce decisions on military aid or even recognition of Syria’s disparate opposition groups, according to U.S. officials. But countries are considering creating large stockpiles of humanitarian aid along Syria’s borders, the officials said.

This week’s talks will seek to clarify some of the confusion. The U.S. is trying to get a clearer picture of what promises countries such as Syria’s Arab neighbors are making to elements of the opposition; which rebels each government might support; and some agreement on what types of assistance would be helpful or damaging.

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