Syrian opposition chief opens high-level talks in US



WASHINGTON- US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday stood side-by-side with Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba in a public show of support, but made no mention of the rebels' plea for heavy weapons to help end the war.
Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, has said he would ask the US administration for anti-aircraft weapons to battle daily barrel bombings unleashed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and help change the balance militarily on the ground.



US officials privately acknowledged he made the request in talks with Kerry at the State Department, but they refused to be drawn on the response.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki meanwhile pointed to a series of new US measures including an extra $27 million in non-lethal aid for the rebels on the ground, as well as Treasury sanctions against Syrian officials.
"I have nothing to announce in terms of any change in our position," said State Department Jen Psaki, referring to the long-standing policy of the US administration to provide only non-lethal military support such as communications equipment, body armor and night-vision goggles.
"We're continuing to build the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate, armed opposition," she said.
"I'm not going to outline that or detail that from here, but we continue to consider a range of options."
It is understood that Jarba will also meet with US President Barack Obama during his eight-day trip to the US which ends on May 14.
His visit comes as the last rebels pull out of the center of the battleground city of Homs, handing a symbolic victory to Assad ahead of controversial elections next month.
Jarba Wednesday slammed the polls saying Assad wanted to "run for office on the dead bodies of Syrians" in a three-year conflict which has now claimed more than 150,000 lives.
Jarba "understands better than anybody, the stakes and the struggle and the fight against extremism," Kerry said as he welcomed him to the State Department.
"We are committed to do our part to support the moderate opposition in its efforts to provide a legitimate voice to the aspirations and hopes of the Syrian people," he added.
And he praised Jarba and the SNC for building "an inclusive and moderate institution" committed "to the protection of all people, all minorities, all rights within Syria."
Speaking in Arabic through a translator, Jarba thanked Kerry for Washington's support "for the struggle of the Syrian people, for freedom and democracy, and also to lift the injustice and fight oppression and dictatorship that Bashar al-Assad is engaging in. "
But he stressed the Syrian people were looking "to the superpower and country that plays a leading role in the world."
The United States Thursday also slapped more sanctions on six senior Syrian officials, including his strategic affairs adviser, Brigadier General Bassam al-Hassan, as well as on a Russian bank and state-owned oil refineries.
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Friday, May 9th 2014
AFP
           


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