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US Denies Russian Allegation of Military Supplies to Syrian Rebels


State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland (file photo)

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland (file photo)

The United States is denying a Russian allegation that it is helping supply weapons to rebels fighting embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow says the Obama administration is aware of the delivery of various weapons to armed groups active in the Syrian conflict. In a written statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry says, "judging by the declarations of U.S. officials published in U.S. media, the U.S. coordinates and provides logistical assistance in such deliveries."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says that is not true.

"This notion that we are coordinating the military assistance of other countries is ludicrous," Nuland said.

The United States does provide what it says is non-lethal assistance to President Assad's opponents, including communications equipment. Other countries in the so-called "Friends of Syria" group are giving weapons. Nuland says Washington is coordinating with those allies to ensure that those supplies go to groups that support a democratic future for Syria.

"We are working together to try to understand who's who on the ground in the opposition to ensure that none of us - whether we're supporting on the non-lethal side or making another choice - are inadvertently aiding and abetting extremists. This is something that we are extremely careful about," Nuland said.

Russia continues to supply arms to President Assad and has been critical of countries backing his opponents. Russia and China have vetoed three United Nations Security Council resolutions that would have sanctioned President Assad if he failed to follow through on a political power-sharing plan.

Syria's government is promising to observe a four-day cease-fire starting Friday to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. In an announcement read on state television late Thursday, the military says it will act if "terrorist groups [are] trying to reinforce their positions by arming themselves and getting reinforcements."

A commander for the rebel Free Syrian Army said his fighters will commit to the truce, but respond to any attacks.

U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi says he hopes this will lead to a longer cease-fire and negotiations between the sides.

Nuland says any day in Syria without violence is progress, and that the United States will be watching events closely. But she says President Assad's government is good at making promises and not as good at following through.
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