Ambassador to Syria Leaves Door Open to Arming Opposition

  • Share
  • Read Later
Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

A woman walks through rubble from a building destroyed by shelling from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in downtown Aleppo August 1, 2012.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told reporters on Thursday that he can imagine a day when the U.S. arms the Syrian opposition. “The president has never taken arms off the table,” Ford said. “But it has to be fit within a strategy of leading to a political solution and not where one side seeks to conquer the other militarily. Imagine it this way: how do you convince one side that is losing already to stop fighting when they think their very existence is at threat?”

Ford pointed to Libya as cautionary tale for those seeking to arm Syrians. “Libya is a case where the proliferation of arms has threatened the stability of the country moving forward,” Ford said. “The proliferation of weapons by themselves is not a strategy.”

Ford was speaking at a press conference on the relief efforts in Syria, organized by the International Relief and Development Agency, which highlighted the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in Syria. Aid groups say delivering assistance has become more difficult as the civil war has intensified and Bashar Assad’s corned regime has begun bombing hospitals and bakeries. “There are war crimes,” Ford said.

Since the beginning of the conflict 19 months ago, more than 30,000 people have been killed and a million people have been displaced. As winter approaches, the status of refugees spread across the Middle East from Egypt to Turkey  is increasingly at risk, aid groups warn. The U.S. is the largest single humanitarian donor in the Syrian conflict.

Ford’s comments on the U.S. potentially arming Syria comes after a front page New York Times story reported that the Obama Administration’s policy is shifting toward potentially arming certain groups. Ford welcomed reports that Qatar has provided manpads, or portable air-defense systems, to the Syrian opposition enabling them for the first time to defend against Assad’s air power. A regime helicopter was shot down Tuesday outside Aleppo, reportedly by a manpad. The weapons “will certainly complicate the Syrian military’s ability to fight,” Ford said. “But they won’t get people fighting for Bashar Assad to stop fighting for Bashar Assad.”

Ford also warned that the dangerous presence of extremist groups in Syria complicates U.S. thinking about providing arms. “We certainly understand the Syrian people’s desire to defend themselves, but we certainly don’t want to give arms to extremists,” Ford said.

Despite the latests developments, Ford said the focus of the U.S. in Syria should remain diplomatic, even if the U.S. decides to arm certain opposition groups. “The question about arms then becomes: do they help the transition [post Assad]?” he said. “Or do they make it harder?”

12 comments
omen_99
omen_99

@delaneychambers highly misleading headline. @TIME has no shame.

omen_99
omen_99

@JNSmall lie: “The president has never taken arms off the table,” Ford said.

omen_99
omen_99

@JNSmall explanation for contradiction? y US blocked rebels from getting them in first place? "Ford welcomed reports/Qatar/provided manpads"

RanaGosani
RanaGosani

leave syrıa alone. thıs ıs not the way of esablıshıng your fake democracy!!!! Bashar has been presıdent for years and Syrıa was the safıest and peacfull country! I lıved there for over 14 yers. Step out, US. Go away! Solve you ınner problems

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

40,000 souls say your too late.

AfGuy
AfGuy

Not to be cynical, mind you...

What could possibly go wrong with arming a presently "friendly" resistance group in that part of the world? Or is getting rid of the "present" Syrian leadership just considered a high enough priority to over-ride all other considerations?

Arming the Taliban against the Soviets worked out so vey well for us.... unless the goal was to develop a perpetual source of "enemies" to justify our defense expenditures. 

No wonder the hawks among us want history banished from the schools...

edfranks
edfranks

@carolv27 @Mar15Syria At this rate, the Syrian civil war will be over before FSA get a bullet from Obama...

cent-fan
cent-fan

So the story is he didn't say we would and he didn't say we wouldn't. The real story that never seems to get covered is what is happening between the world stage and one particular street in a bombed out village. I can hear the opinion of ambassadors and individual freedom fighter all day but no one seems to know or bother with the wider strategy of the amalgam of players. That's like writing the history of the US Civil War by reading accounts by the US British Ambassador and some Johnny Reb on the left side of the line on some hill in the middle of Fredericksburg.

As far as arming the opposition why not set up a drone base "sponsored" by Turkey (if they go along) and "commanded" by the "government in being" of the "Free Syrian Democratic Republic of Everybody"? Yeah, it's really a US military operation but it sounds legit. A few Hellfire missiles into a few tanks and air bases and the Syrian government will be as ill-equipped as the opposition... and no jihadists get any toys.

peacock2828
peacock2828

@AfGuy For what it's worth, the Taliban is an Islamist and Pashtun nationalist group, whereas the Syrian opposition comprises Islamists, secularists, and Kurds, so they're not fully comparable.

lee_alley
lee_alley

@edfranks @carolv27 @Mar15Syria ...after which Obama will wonder why they don't listen + vote against him in UN Gen'l Assembly...

MrObvious
MrObvious

@cent-fan 

Kind of like air power for Libya. I like that better than putting more weapons in the hands of people we might have to fight in the future.