Qatar lectures Kerry on arming Syrian rebels

March 5, 2013

Qatar, which has provided weapons to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, gently lectured visiting Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Tuesday about American reluctance to become more involved in the two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000.

Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, applauded the recent expansion of U.S. and European aid directly to fighters but said it should have come sooner. He suggested that the United States is needlessly preoccupied with worries that some arms meant for the Syrian rebels might end up in the hands of militants who oppose U.S. interests.

“There is a change in the international position and the American position,” said Hamad, who spoke with Kerry through an interpreter at a news conference. “They are talking about weapons. We hope that this had happened some time ago, because this would have maybe lessened the death and destruction that took place in Syria.”

Kerry gave the clearest confirmation yet that the United States knows which nations are providing what to the rebels and that there is coordination among those nations despite their differences of opinion. Qatar and other Persian Gulf states have supplied small arms and heavier weapons.

The United States and Europe refuse to send weapons for now, but Kerry announced last week that the United States will provide direct battlefield support in the form of food and medicine. Britain is considering supplying rebels with heavier gear that borders on weaponry and says it cannot rule out sending arms in the future.

Kerry did not respond directly to Hamad’s comments but said the two diplomats had a helpful and frank discussion. He added that the Obama administration is increasingly confident that weapons sent by others are going to what he called the legitimate moderate opposition rather than to extremists.

Qatar, a small but ambitious Persian Gulf state, was Kerry’s last stop on a nine-country debut tour as secretary of state. The nation is a major player in several areas of keen interest to the United States, including outreach to the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Syrian crisis.

Kerry said he had discussions in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which is also arming the Syrian rebels, about what kind of weaponry was being sent and to whom.

“We are aware of what people are doing,” he said. “I don’t think the United States is involved in a specific allotment process or a designated process, but obviously we are aware of it.”

In an interview Tuesday with ABC News, Kerry left open the possibility of lethal aid in the future.

“That’s not my job to do,” he said. “That’s the president of the United States’ decision, and I don’t think this is a president who ever takes any option off the table. But for the moment, he feels like what we’re doing is the right policy.”

Anne Gearan is a national politics correspondent for The Washington Post.
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