By Scott Stearns
The Obama administration is boosting financial support for opponents of the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chaired a meeting Friday of foreign ministers backing the Syrian opposition.
Clinton said Washington will give another $15 million to Assad’s political opponents and $30 million more in humanitarian support to help those displaced by fighting.
“Conditions in Syria continue to deteriorate as the Assad regime relentlessly wages war on its own people,” said Clinton. “And we see more bodies filling hospitals and morgues, and more refugees leaving their homeland and flooding into neighboring countries.”
She spoke at a meeting of foreign ministers from countries that are part of the so-called “Friends of Syria” group, which met with nine Syrian opposition leaders. Some of the members help arm Syrian rebels. Others, such as the United States, are restricting their aid to non-lethal assistance.
Russia and China continue to block tougher United Nations action against Damascus, arguing that sanctions with consequences interfere in Syria’s internal affairs and a solution to the conflict cannot be imposed from outside.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil ElAraby told the meeting that it is time for a political transition in Syria because the situation is becoming “more explosive.”
“The Syrian people are looking for us here – if we are truly the Friends of the Syrian people – to take concrete and practical steps to end this tragic and indeed dangerous crisis, to save the lives of innocent people and to save Syria and the whole region from the scourge of a more expanded civil war and more tragedies of massive proportions,” said ElAraby.
Clinton said the Lebanese Shi’ite group, Hezbollah, and its sponsor Iran, are helping to keep Assad in power.
“There is no longer any doubt that Tehran will do whatever it takes to protect its proxy and crony in Damascus,” she said.
With Syria’s sectarian violence spilling over into Lebanon, Clinton said the longer the fighting continues, the greater the risks of extremism grow.
“We know the regime will do everything it can to pit communities against each other, and that extremists will be eager to exploit tensions and impose their own brutal ideology,” said Clinton.
She said this means civil society groups and the political opposition must reassure minorities they will be safe in a post-Assad Syria. Disunity among the political opposition topped the agenda at this “Friends of Syria” meeting.
The United States believes U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi should help bring together Assad opponents because, Washington argues, a more cohesive opposition can play a more effective role in a political transition.