‘US rethinking option of arming Syrian rebels’

The US has said it is rethinking the option of providing armed support to Syrian rebels in its efforts to oust the Assad regime from there, but added that no decision in this regard has so far been taken.

Updated: May 03, 2013, 09:46 AM IST

Washington: The US has said it is rethinking the option of providing armed support to Syrian rebels in its efforts to oust the Assad regime from there, but added that no decision in this regard has so far been taken.

"Arming the rebels is an option, I am in favour of exploring options and see what is the best in coordination with our international partners," US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a joint press conference with his British counterpart Philip Hammond.

"You look at and rethink all options. It doesn`t mean you do or you will. These are options that must be considered with partners and the international community, what is possible, what can help accomplish these objectives," he said.

The US and its allies, he said, are exploring all options to achieve the objectives of stopping the violence, bringing stability in the region and helping be part of that transitioning Syria to a democracy.

"These are not static situations. And you must always look at different options based on the reality on the ground, based on what you want to achieve, based on the future, based on our international partners. We - Secretary Hammond and I - talked about many options," Hagel said.

Echoing Hagel`s views, Hammond said they have not thus far provided any arms to the rebels, but added that "we have never said it`s something we will not do."

"But the word that hasn`t come out so far in this discussion is legality. Both of our nations will only do what we legally can do. Certainly in our case, for the UK, we have been subject to an EU ban on supplying armaments to rebels."

"We will look at the situation when that ban expires in a few weeks` time and continue to keep that situation under review. But we will do what we are able to do within the bounds of legality, and we regard that as very important," Hammond said.

Syria was one of the important topics of discussion between the two leaders at the Pentagon.

"Secretary Hagel and I reaffirmed our shared view that the Syrian regime must end violence, stop slaughter of its own people and recognise that it is no longer the legitimate representative of the Syrian people," Hammond said.
"We continue to believe that a diplomatic solution is needed to end bloodshed and that Assad and his close associates can have no place in future of Syria," he said.

The UK is stepping up its support to the national coalition and remind the regime that nothing has been taken off the table in the light of the continuing bloodshed.

"We remain increasingly concerned at emerging evidence of use of chemical weapons, and we demand that the regime allow the UN to investigate these allegations. Assad should be in no doubt that the world is watching and will hold him and anyone else to account who is found responsible," Hammond said.

The two defense secretaries said before taking the next step, they are currently gathering more evidence on use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

"I think the evidence that we have is that the regime is largely in control of its chemical weapons, principal chemical weapons sites. That is not the same as saying that we are able to account for every last unit of chemical stocks, but there is no evidence that the regime has lost control of significant chemical weapon sites yet," Hammond said.

"In terms of location of weapons, I think we have a great deal of knowledge of location of chemical weapons. That is not the same as saying that I can put my hand on my heart and say we know where every last item is," he said.

"In terms of any possible response, I wouldn`t want to close off any options. We should keep our range of options open and under continuous consideration. We should look at the evolving situation on the ground and look at the range of options that would be appropriate and legal in any given situation," the British Defense Secretary said.