Obama: U.S. now recognizes Syrian opposition coalition

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:31am EST

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the White House in Washington November 28, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the White House in Washington November 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama granted U.S. recognition on Tuesday to a Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, a move aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.

Obama announced his decision in an interview with ABC News on the eve of a meeting of Syrian opposition leaders and their international allies in Morocco, but he stopped short of authorizing U.S. arming of rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.

"It's a big step," Obama said in a step that could provide a diplomatic boost to the anti-Assad political cause after nearly two years of fighting.

France, Britain, Turkey and the Gulf states led the way last month in recognizing the opposition coalition. But Washington held off until now, demanding the groups, dogged by splits and rivalries throughout their battle to end the Assad family's long authoritarian rule, do more to coalesce into a unified front.

A formal endorsement by Obama, accused by critics of failing to respond forcefully enough to the bloody Syrian conflict, could mark a new phase in his efforts to isolate Assad, who has defied repeated U.S. calls to step down.

But little in the way of direct military or financial support is expected to be channeled to the coalition at the Morocco meeting on Wednesday, partly because it lacks the ability to act as a provisional government and because Western powers are still wary of backing Islamist fighters in the rebel ranks.

"We've made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama told ABC's Barbara Walters at the White House.

The diplomatic designation - which had been widely expected - could open the door to further U.S. non-lethal assistance, including communications equipment and humanitarian aid, and deeper political contacts.

But Obama made clear that he remains cautious about some of the armed Syrian factions linked to the political coalition and is not ready to start supplying weapons to the rebels, something he has steadfastly resisted despite demands from some Republican critics.

"Not everybody who's participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with," Obama said. "There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements."


Obama specifically singled out the radical Islamist Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusrah, which the United States on Tuesday designated as a foreign terrorist organization that it said was trying to hijack the rebellion on behalf of al Qaeda in Iraq.

U.S. officials said the al-Nusra group had claimed responsibility for carrying out nearly 600 attacks in major cities that have killed numerous innocent Syrians during the uprising against Assad.

U.S. officials said it was an important signal both to the Syrian opposition and its foreign supporters, particularly in the Gulf, that al-Nusra and its ilk cannot play a part in Syria's eventual political transition.

Tuesday's action came as U.S. officials were set to attend the Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakech, to discuss the Syria crisis, as rebels push forward on the battlefield and move to unify the political opposition.

Rebels clashed on Tuesday with government forces near Damascus airport, battling for the capital's outskirts in a conflict which the United Nations said has driven half a million people from the country since it began in March 2011.

Fighting near the airport, 20 km (12 miles) southeast of Damascus city center, is part of a broader confrontation between the army and rebels who hold a near-continuous arc of territory from the east to the southwest of Assad's power base.

At least 40,000 people have been killed in Syria's uprising, which started with street protests that were met with gunfire by Assad's security forces, and spiraled into the most enduring and destructive of the Arab uprisings.

Stalemate between major powers, particularly the United States and Russia, has paralyzed the wider international response to the violence, leaving regional Sunni Muslim states such as Turkey and the Gulf Arab countries helping the rebels and Shi'ite Iran providing support to Assad.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Comments (2)
DeanCollins wrote:
lol can you imagine if Russia said they recognize the Republicans as the rightful leaders of the USA and started funding the Klu-Klux-Klan to take over the Democratic “states”

Dec 11, 2012 11:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
There is, of course, a certain “Alice In Wonderland” quality to the way the US and other countries are able to view quite similar Dictatorial regimes around the world and see them through differently tinted glasses and pretend they treat their populations differently.

Many of the Gulf States rule their populations with an Iron Fist and the concept of such a thing as the Popular Vote and/or even the faintest trace of democratic rights and freedoms is as far removed from the average man as is the distance from the bottom of the sea to the craters on the moon.

In many of these dictatorial regimes the King is not a mere figure head like the King and Queen of England, but on the contrary, an Absolute Ruler whose word is the Law of the land.

In so called sophisticated, modern Saudi Arabia a woman can be arrested and go to jail for attempting the “revolutionary” action of driving an automobile. And a member of the Jewish faith is not allowed to book a room at the Hilton Hotel chain which is, after all, an International Corporation.

The aspirations of the majority of the people in Syria are no different than the hopes and dreams of all people throughout the world.

It seems there is an invisible rule in the West that as long as a brutal and dictatorial regime in the world is able to stamp out any and all traces of potential political opposition, then the West takes a “laissez faire” attitude towards that nation at least in terms of getting involved in their internal affairs.

However, once the people trapped in a dictatorial regime rise up and begin to present such a major challenge to that regime that the balance of power appears to be approaching a ‘tipping point’, then the US and the EU as well as certain Gulf States, suddenly become eager supporters of the long oppressed underdogs yearning for their basic freedoms. The very same freedoms that all human beings have every right to expect in a fair world.

But who is to say that when the new wielders of power take over, there will not be just as much repression as before except the victims will be different.

Egypt is still a very open question as far as who will become the new underdogs in the new scheme of things. And if an extreme form of Islam ever takes control in Egypt and/or Syria, et al, look out Charlie.

The world will witness levels and forms of repression that will send those nations back into the Dark Ages as far as there being any chance of real progress for the masses of any kind.

When nations that have never existed under any form of true democracy where citizens can live without fear of being dragged out of their house in the middle of the night and never seen again, and then get a taste of freedom and individual empowerment, as we are witnessing now in Syria, the long term outcome is never a foregone conclusion.

While it appears all but certain that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be killed or driven into exile, beyond that all is smoke, ongoing deaths and devastation and confusion.

And there is no guarantee that what replaces Assad will represent an improvement just as many are far from convinced that an Islamic controlled Egypt will bring an improvement in the living conditions of Egypt’s teeming masses of poor who will continue to require assistance and aid of all sorts, going forward, into the future, as far as the eye can see.

Dec 12, 2012 2:00am EST  --  Report as abuse
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