Russia delivering attack helicopters to Syria: US
AP and Reuters Thursday, June 14, 2012, 12:14 am TWN
BEIRUT/DUBAI/WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said Tuesday that Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and warned that the Arab country's 15-month conflict could become even deadlier.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was "concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria."
She said the shipment "will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."
Russia's Foreign Minister defended his country's sale of arms to Syria and accused the United States of supplying rebels with weapons to fight against the government.
"We are not violating any international law in performing these contracts," said Sergei Lavrov, in response to a question about arms sales to Syria at a news conference in Tehran shown on Iranian state television.
"They (the United States) are providing arms and weapons to the Syrian opposition that can be used in fighting against the Damascus government," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Clinton's comments at a public appearance with Israeli President Shimon Peres augured poorly for a peaceful solution to Syria's conflict.
Diplomatic hopes have rested on Washington and Moscow agreeing on a transition plan that would end the four-decade Assad regime. But Moscow has consistently rejected the use of outside forces to end the conflict or any international plan to force regime change in Damascus. Despite withering criticism from the West, it insists that any arms it supplies to Syria are not being used to quell anti-government dissent.
Russia and Syria have a longstanding military relationship and Syria hosts Russia's only naval base on the Mediterranean Sea. But in light of the brutal violence, the U.S. has repeatedly demanded that any further deliveries of weaponry be halted.
Some 13,000 people have died, according to opposition groups, but the U.S. and its allies have been hoping that sanctions on Assad's government and its increased isolation would make it increasingly difficult to carry out military campaigns. Attack helicopters are heavily armored and can carry machine guns, rockets, missiles or other weapons capable of firing at ground targets.
Asked why the Pentagon isn't blocking Russian weapons shipments to Syria, Defense Department officials noted that the administration hasn't declared an arms embargo.
In recent days, the State Department has decried what it calls "horrific new tactics" by Syrian forces, including helicopters attacks on civilians.
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Clinton's comments referred specifically to new helicopters that were being sent to Syria, and not already existing Russian-made or Soviet-made supplies being used by Assad's government.
"We have been pushing the Russians for months to break their military ties with the Syrian regime and they haven't done it," she told reporters in Washington. "Instead, they keep reassuring all of us that what they are sending militarily to Syria can't be used against civilians.
"But what are we seeing?" Nuland asked. "We are seeing the Syrian government using helicopters to fire on their own people from the air. So our question remains: How can the Russians conscience their continued military sales to Syria?"
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