WASHINGTON – The US State Department expressed firm opposition on Tuesday to Russia's plan to transfer S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
"We think that's a mistake" said Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell in a briefing, "they've described it as fulfilling existing contracts... We're going to continue to work with them."
The spokesperson also expressed support for the lifting of the European Union's arms embargo on Syria, a move British Foreign Secretary William Hague said effectively ends the EU's ban on supplying arms to Syrian rebels. Ventrell said the step will "give the flexibility of specific EU member states to support the opposition as they see fit." He added that the embargo removal sends a message to President Bashar Assad
that the "support for the opposition is only going to increase." He condemned Hezbollah
's involvement and said it defies the stability not only in Syria but in Lebanon
White House Spokesperson Jay Carney said in regards to the advanced missiles that "on the matter of Russian arm sales, we've made clear in the past and made clear again our firm belief that providing arms to the Assad regime does not bring us closer to the political transition that Syria deserves."
On the Russian claim that it is fulfilling existing contracts, Carney said that the US agrees with the Russians on achieving a political solution in principle, and they will continue to work with them in order to reach a negotiated political agreement. Apart from that, he said, the US continues to aid the opposition and whoever helps to promote a new and free Syria.
Firm American message to Russia (Photo: AFP)
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier Tuesday that the S-300 missiles deal to Syria will be implemented in order to deter the West from military intervention in Syria.
Ryabkov criticized the EU's decision to lift the weapons embargo to Syria and claimed it would hurt the international peace convention on the Syrian crisis. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported that similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ryabkov also clarified that Russia will respect all contracts signed in the past: "Damascus is a contract partner, and there is no chance that illegal armed group would make use of it. There is no chance we will back down from this position."
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon
confirmed on Tuesday morning that the S-300 missile shipment from Russia to Syria has yet to leave for its destination. He stressed that the missile shipment "is a threat, and I can testify that the deal is not making headway. The shipments have not left yet. Let's hope they won't, and if they do, we'll know how to act."
Meanwhile, The Daily Beast reported Tuesday that the White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the US and other countries such as France and Great Britain.
Administration officials told the news website the request was made shortly before Secretary of State John Kerry toured the Middle East last week to try and finalize plans for an early June conference between the Syrian regime and rebel leaders in Geneva.
The two officials said President Barack Obama’s dual-track strategy of continuing to pursue a political solution to the two-year-old uprising in Syria while also preparing for more direct US military involvement includes authorizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first time to plan for multilateral military actions inside Syria. They added that no decisions on actually using force have yet been made.
“The White House is still in contemplation mode but the planning is moving forward and it’s more advanced than it’s ever been,” one administration official told The Daily Beast. “All this effort to pressure the regime is part of the overall effort to find a political solution, but what happens if Geneva fails? It’s only prudent to plan for other options.”
Syria's Foreign Ministry condemned the EU's decision to remove the weapons embargo on Syrian rebels. The ministry's statement read that the decision is an obstacle to the international efforts to reach a solution to the crisis in Syria. The ministry also accused the US for supporting the EU's step.
AFP contributed to the report
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