U.S. welcomes Syria opposition, pledges more aid
PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - The United States announced an extra $30 million in aid to those affected by the war in Syria on Wednesday and called the formation of a new opposition coalition an important step that would help Washington better target its help.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement after talks in Perth involving her Australian counterpart Bob Carr and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith.
But the United States stopped short of offering full recognition of the Syrian opposition or offering arms, adding it now wanted to see the new opposition demonstrate it can influence events on the ground in Syria.
"We have long called for this kind of organization. We want to see that momentum maintained," Clinton told reporters.
"As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified, democratic, pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people."
Clinton said the extra $30 million in aid would help deliver much-needed food to hungry people inside Syria and to refugees who have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.
The aid would be provided through the World Food Program, which is supplying food aid to more than one million people in Syria and nearly 400,000 refugees in neighboring countries. The additional funds brought U.S. humanitarian assistance to those affected by the Syrian crisis to nearly $200 million, she said
Twenty months into their bloody uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, fragmented Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Qatar on Sunday to form a coalition led by Damascus preacher Mouaz Alkhatib, who appealed for international recognition.
France became the first European power to recognize Syria's new opposition coalition as the sole representative of its people and said on Tuesday it would look into arming rebels against President Bashar al-Assad once they form a government.
Six Gulf Arab states recognized the coalition on Monday.
The United States says while it is not providing arms to internal opponents of Assad and is limiting its aid to non-lethal humanitarian aids, it concedes that some of its allies are providing lethal assistance - a fact that Assad's chief backer Russia says shows western powers are intent on determining Syria's future.
Russia and China have blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at increasing pressure on the Assad government, leading the United States and its allies to say they could move beyond U.N. structures for their next steps.
(Editing by Michael Perry)
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