Harper rules out arming Syrian rebels, lashes out at Putin

DUBLIN — The Globe and Mail

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny shake hands outside Farmleigh House In Dublin on June 16, 2013. On Sunday, Mr. Harper ruled out arming the Syrian rebels. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ruled out Canada’s support for arming rebel forces in Syria and lashed out at Russian President Vladimir Putin for supporting the “thugs of the Assad regime.”

“We want to see the opposition in Syria become more representative, less sectarian,” Mr. Harper told reporters after meeting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in Dublin. “We do worry about extremist elements in the opposition, we’re very clear about that.”

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He added: “[O]ur aid at the present time, our aid for now, will continue to be humanitarian.”

Mr. Harper’s statements comes on the eve of the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland where Syria is certain to be a major topic. The United States has said it will begin providing some weapons to the rebels after confirming that it believes the Syrian regime has used chemcials weapons. Britain and France have also said Syrian forces used chemical weapons but have yet to indicate if they will support a move to provide arms to the rebels.

Mr. Harper has agreed with the American claims of chemical weapon use, but has gone further than Britain or France in ruling out military support.

The Syrians have rejected the claims, saying the American evidence is based on lies and fabrication. Russia has also questioned the evidence and is preparing to provide weapons to the Syrian government.

“I think you will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines, in front of the public and cameras,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a joint news conference in London Sunday after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. “Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons?”

Mr. Harper took exception to Mr. Putin’s stance.

"I don’t think we should fool ourselves. This is G7, plus one. That's what this is, G7 plus one," he said.

He added that the West has a very different view than the Russian President.

“Mr. Putin and his government are supporting the thugs of the Assad regime for their own reasons that I do not think are justifiable and Mr. Putin knows my view on that.”

He added that he does not believe any agreement with Mr. Putin is possible at the G8 unless he changes his position.

The Russian President is expected to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the G8, which begins Monday at the Lough Erne resort.

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