Russia suggests U.S. coordinating arms supplies to Syria rebels
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Thursday accepted a U.S. statement that it has not supplied Stinger missiles to Syrian rebels, but suggested the United States is coordinating supplies of some other weapons to President Bashar al-Assad's foes.
The United States said on Wednesday it has not supplied Stinger missiles to Syrian rebel forces and appeared to question Russian assertions that the U.S.-made, surface-to-air missiles had made their way into the opposition's hands.
"Yes, the United States is not supplying man-portable air-defense systems to rebels in Syria," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
"At the same time, it is also well-known that Washington is aware of supplies of various types of arms to illegal armed groups operating in Syria," he said.
"Moreover, the United States, judging by admissions by American officials that have also been published in American media, is conducting coordination and providing logistical support for such supplies."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday that the United States had provided no lethal assistance to rebel forces whatsoever. On Thursday, she said the latest Russian suggestion was "ludicrous."
"We have made a choice only to provide non-lethal assistance. Other countries have made a different choice. We coordinate with all of those countries, particularly on this issue of ensuring that we are vetting well who we are working with, and making sure that we are not inadvertently supporting extremists," Nuland told a news briefing.
"But this notion that we are coordinating the military assistance of other countries is ludicrous."
Moscow and Washington are at loggerheads over the conflict in Syria, which activists say has killed more than 32,000 people since protests against Assad erupted in March 2011.
Russia sold the government in Syria $1 billion worth of weapons last year and has made clear it would oppose an arms embargo in the U.N. Security Council, contending that rebels would get weapons illegally anyway.
The West has criticized Russia for vetoing, along with China, three Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Assad to end a 19-month conflict. Moscow says it opposes foreign interference in Syria's affairs.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; Editing by Stephen Powell and Stacey Joyce)
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