US denies Kerry said Syria policy failing

2014-02-04 08:08
US Secretary of State John Kerry. (Roslan Rahman, AFP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry. (Roslan Rahman, AFP)

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Washington - The US administration stood by its policy on Syria on Monday, denying that Secretary of State John Kerry had called for a change of strategy and the arming of opposition rebels.

As January marked the deadliest month in the conflict with almost 6 000 killed, some US media claimed the top diplomat had said Washington's policy was failing.

The reports, quoting influential Republican senators, said Kerry made the remarks at a meeting on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich.

"No one in the administration thinks we're doing enough until the humanitarian crisis has been solved and the civil war has ended," said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.

She told reporters she had taken part in the hour-long meeting with US lawmakers in the German city, but insisted that "at no point did [Kerry] state what I think was quoted, that the process had failed".

"They did have a discussion about a range of options that the administration has always had at its disposal," she added.

Non-lethal support

The meeting was more of a "listening session... than it was a briefing session" by Kerry "because he was hearing from... probably about 20 members, about what they would like to do," Psaki said.

As for arming the rebels, "at no point did he raise it, did he commit to it, did he say that it was a process being worked on, and so that's a mischaracterisation of what was said".

"Of course we need to continue to consider what more we can do. But that is not a change in strategy," she added.

"That is an acknowledgement of what we all know: that there are ongoing discussions within the administration, that we continue to work with our international partners and through interagency process on how to approach each step in this."

Despite heavy criticism from some of his key allies such as Saudi Arabia, President Barack Obama has resolutely refused to provide US heavy weaponry to the opposition rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But Washington has been providing non-lethal support directly to the rebel Supreme Military Council, including body armour, computers and night-vision goggles.

And US media claimed last week that some light arms were being shipped to the rebels, although that has not been confirmed.

Bloodiest month

Three years into the war, millions have been driven from their homes, and fighting, complicated by increasing militant groups on the ground, is largely at a stalemate.

According to Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Kerry admitted in Munich that "we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy," Graham was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

But the White House hit back this was wishful thinking "that reflects how Senator Graham and Senator McCain view our policy, not how Secretary Kerry views it".

White House spokesperson Jay Carney added Obama believed "it is absolutely necessary to press for a negotiated political resolution to this conflict. There is no other alternative".

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said January was the conflict's bloodiest month so far, with 5 794 deaths recorded.

Rebel-held areas have been subjected to a punishing string of aerial raids by the army in the past three days, with at least 26 people - including 11 children - killed on Monday in attacks with explosive-packed barrel bombs in the northern city of Aleppo, according to the NGO.

More than 136 000 people have died since the conflict began with peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011.

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