After meeting Qatar's Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference he was convinced weapons being sent by Qatar to Syrian rebels were being transferred to “moderates” among the disparate groups of fighters.
This new rhetoric represents a definitive, if perhaps subtle turnaround in Washington’s stance on the Syrian conflict.
Spencer Ackerman on Wired points out a top US commander told a Senate panel this week that options are being readied to secure Syria’s chemical weapons.
“That’s a marked shift in attitude, at the very least, from previous U.S. military assessments,” he says, referring to past statements from U.S. military brass saying 75,000 troops would be required to secure the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons.
All of a sudden things are moving very fast indeed. Syria’s disparate political opposition is to meet in Istanbul next Tuesday to appoint an inaugural prime minister, something it has been attempting to do for months. One of the international community’s longstanding demands of the opposition has been to get organized – organize and elect leaders Washington and Europe can sit down with and talk to before Western states makes any commitments to the Syrian opposition.
Britain’s foreign minister has also been upping the rhetoric this week. Regarding the arming of moderate rebels, William Hague said Sunday: “You can reach consensus [on arming fighters] eventually when humanitarian need is so great and the loss of life is so great that you have to do something new to save lives. That's why I don't rule it out in the future."
The Syrian regime in Damascus continues to believe – publicly at least – that it will win the war. President Bashar al-Assad made this clear in an interview with the London Sunday Times newspaper last week.
For the first time, Washington is talking to Syrian rebels. Fred Hof, until last year the State Department’s point man on Syria, wrote this week how President Obama “seems to have overcome his understandable, if regrettable reluctance to enter this key arena.”
This will embolden France and Britain – long-time supporters of arming the right rebels, particularly with a European Union arms embargo on Syria up for review again in May. With hundreds dying every day on the ground, a refugee crisis that risks destabilizing neighboring countries and with Washington leaning ever closer to the idea of arming some rebels, the drums of war in Syria beat louder.