STATE DEPARTMENT —
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Obama administration does not oppose moves by the United Kingdom and France to arm opponents of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition has chosen U.S.-educated former businessman Ghassan Hitto as provisional prime minister to administer the areas seized by rebels from the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
Hitto received 35 of the 48 votes cast by members of the opposition coalition meeting in Turkey on Tuesday. He has lived in the United States for decades, but recently moved from Texas to Turkey to help coordinate aid to rebel-held areas.
The United States already cooperates with Arab allies arming the Syrian opposition, so Kerry said Washington has no objection to Europeans doing the same.
"President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not stand in the way of other countries that made a decision to provide arms, whether it is France or Britain or others," said Kerry.
Kerry said there is a military imbalance in Syria, with President Bashar al-Assad receiving help from Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia. That imbalance is creating what he called a "global catastrophe" of Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
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Kerry said there is no change to the U.S. position of providing only non-lethal aid to the armed opposition, though, as he said the Obama administration continues to work to change Assad's calculation.
"The longer the bloodshed goes on, the greater the prospect that the institutions of the state of Syria implode. And therefore the greater the danger is to the region and the world that chemical weapons fall into the hands of really bad actors. We do not want that to happen," he said.
France and the United Kingdom want the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria and both are considering providing weapons to the opposition unilaterally if the European Union does not.
Germany and other EU members echo U.S. concerns that more weapons will only lead to more fighting. Kerry said the Obama administration is leaving the door open for Assad to find a political solution.
"If he believes he can shoot it out, Syrians and the region have a problem. And the world has a problem," said Kerry.
Kerry leaves Tuesday as part of Obama's trip to Israel, where the war in neighboring Syria will be high on the diplomatic agenda. It also is a trip to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in which Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who met Monday with Kerry in Washington, said American leadership is required.
"I believe we are at a historic moment where there is a convergence produced by the thinking in Ramallah and the result of the recent Israeli election," said Carr.
Following the formation of his new government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is extending a hand in peace to Palestinians, vowing that "Israel will be ready for a historic compromise that will end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all" with a Palestinian partner "that is willing to hold negotiations in good will."
At the State Department, Carr welcomed the prime minister's offer. Kerry said he hopes those words become a reality.