Syrian opposition urges U.S. to quickly send promised arms
U.S. hasn't shipped any weapons; concerned they could fall into hands of Islamic extremists
The leader of Syria's Western-backed opposition group told U.S. Secretary John Kerry on Thursday that the United States must quickly supply rebels with promised weapons to prevent a military victory by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Ahmad Al-Jarba, in a statement sent out while he was still meeting with Kerry at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, called the situation in Syria "desperate" and said the opposition urgently needs American action "to push the international community to demand a political transition."
The newly elected head of the Syrian National Coalition accused the Assad regime of using indiscriminate weapons ranging from chemical weapons to cluster bombs and said opposition fighters must have weapons to defend themselves and protect civilians.
The Obama administration decided in June to begin arming Syrian rebels groups after the United States said it had conclusive evidence that Assad's regime used chemical weapons against opposition forces. But the U.S. has yet to send any weapons amid concerns they could end up in the hands of al-Qaeda-backed groups and other extremists.
Syria's rebels, however, have recently received shipments of more powerful weapons from Gulf allies, particularly anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
Kerry met with Al-Jarba in an effort to promote international efforts to convene a conference in Geneva to try to move forward with a transitional government based on a plan adopted in that city a year ago.
'There is only a political solution'
Kerry stressed earlier Thursday that "there is no military solution" to the 2 ½-year-old civil war.
"There is only a political solution, and that will require leadership in order to bring people to the table," he said.
He stood beside UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who minutes earlier announced that the Syrian conflict has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011, up from the previous estimate of 93,000.
Kerry told reporters as he left the meeting with Al-Jarba that it was "very, very constructive."
He said the opposition agreed to work over the next few weeks to pinpoint the conditions under which a new Geneva conference can work.
They believe Geneva "is very important, and we are going to work it out," Kerry said.
Al-Jarba said he told Kerry "that the coalition fully understands American concerns about extremism and the possible diversion of military assistance."
"We absolutely condemn all terrorism and all attempts to turn Syria into what it is not, a monotheistic or totalitarian state," he said. "But we need American direct support to save democracy in Syria and to lead the world to force Assad at last to stand down."
The coalition delegation is expected to meet informally Friday with the UN Security Council.