UN Chief Says U.S. Move To Arm Syrian Rebels “Not Helpful”

“There is no military solution to this conflict, even if both the Government and the opposition, and their supporters, think there can be.” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday.
(UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

(UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

 

UNITED NATIONS (TRNS)- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says there is no military solution to the crisis in Syria and that supplying either side with weapons is not helpful.

A day after President Obama announced the US would be expanding military assistance to Syrian rebels, the UN chief warned a press conference Friday that any surge in weapons transfers could further intensify a conflict that has already claimed at least 93 000 lives in a little more than two years.

“There is no military solution to this conflict, even if both the Government and the opposition, and their supporters, think there can be.” Ban said .“Only a political solution can address this issue sustainably; therefore, [increasing] the flow of arms to either side would not be helpful.”

The White House’s decision to provide military aid to the Syrian National Coalition comes as the Assad government has reportedly been able to recapture strategic areas from rebel forces, while U.S. and Russian attempts to jumpstart negotiations between the government and opposition coalition have failed to create any momentum towards a diplomatic solution.

The Obama administration prefaced its announcement of direct military assistance on Thursday by revealing that a U.S. intelligence assessment was able to confirm with “high confidence” that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, including sarin gas, on several occasions over the past year.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Friday he had received a letter from the U.S. administration detailing its latest assessment of chemical weapons use, but declined to comment on its contents. Ban said that despite being denied access into Syria, the team of UN experts appointed to investigate allegations of chemical weapons attacks were still collecting and analyzing information and materials made available by concerned governments. But he also noted that the only way to ensure a transparent chain of custody and the validity of such evidence was to allow the UN experts into Syria to collect their own information and samples.

“Our goal remains a fully independent and impartial inquiry.” Ban said, reiterating calls the Syrian government grant UN weapons inspectors entry into to the country.

The Assad government initially requested the UN investigate an alleged chemical attack by opposition fighters back in March, but Damascus later denied international experts access after the UN said it would also probe allegations of chemical weapons use by pro-government forces.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters outside the UN Security Council Friday that while the assessment of chemical weapons use had been conducted by the American intelligence community, its findings could still be valuable to UN investigators.

“We outlined additional information that we think could contribute to understanding of what has in fact transpired if the [UN] team were granted the access that we think it deserves.” she said.

Rice also said the Obama administration’s decision to provide military assistance to opposition fighters was “an appropriate initial response” to the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons and to the increased involvement of Hezbollah militants in the conflict.

The American Ambassador declined to detail the extent of the new military assistance that will be provided, but said officials in Washington would “try to be responsive to the needs of the Supreme Military Council”, the military branch of exiled opposition group the Syrian National Coalition.

However support for arming Syria’s rebels is far from being widespread through out the international community. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other senior UN official have in recent weeks repeatedly urged governments not to arm state or opposition elements within the country.

In May, shortly after British and French officials successfully lobbied the European Union not to renew an arms embargo on Syrian rebels, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council that providing weapons and ammunition to either side would only embolden radicals.

“The message from all of us should be the same: we will not support this conflict with arms, ammunition, politics or religion.” she said.

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Council-appointed Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria recommended that the international community “counter the escalation of the conflict by restricting arms transfers, especially given the clear risk that the arms will be used to commit serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.”

With the exception of the UK and France, most European Union countries have also voiced reservations about arming the opposition and raised concerns that weapons destined for moderate rebels fighters might instead be diverted to militant islamists.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday called on the UN Security Council to hold an urgent meeting on Syria in light of recent developments and said her government’s decision not to arm rebel fighters remained unchanged.

In a statement Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Obama administration’s decision to provide the opposition with weapons “could further escalate tensions in the region” and argued that “U.S. accusations of chemical weapons use by Damascus are not supported by reliable facts.”

The move to expand military aid to Syrian rebels comes just a week before President Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin are expected to meet at the G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland.

Recent Russian and the U.S. efforts to help renew talks in Geneva between the Syrian National Coalition and President Bashar al Assad’s government also seem to have come to a standstill. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki says the administration still supports renewing a Syrian negotiations process in Geneva with Moscow’s assistance, but that there are a number of factors, including military developments on the ground and the election of an opposition leadership, that need to be addressed.

“We still want [the Geneva Conference] to happen when the time is ripe and when it is the best opportunity to bring both sides to the table.” Psaki told a briefing.  “We need to make determinations about everything from the agenda to the participation. And all those pieces are still being worked through.”

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TRNS UN Desk
News updates from inside the headquarters of the United Nations.
  • Alfred Gerteiny

    How sad it is that President Obama has abandoned another key
    principle from his first presidential campaign submitting to pressure, taking side
    and intervening in still another unfortunate Middle Eastern imbroglio, and hurrah to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his wise stand and warning on the issue.

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