Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.S. Adopts a Sharper Tone with Russia on Syria Arms

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.S. Adopts a Sharper Tone with Russia on Syria Arms

Article excerpt

Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Russia's continued sale of weaponry to Mr. Assad's government called into question its commitment to the political process.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday strongly criticized Russia's pledge to send advanced antiaircraft weapons to Syria, saying that its actions threatened to disrupt efforts to negotiate a political settlement of the Syrian conflict and posed an unacceptable risk to Israel.

"Whether it's an old contract or not, it has a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region, and it does put Israel at risk," Mr. Kerry said at the State Department, making his most pointed statement yet about Russia's arming of the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

"It is not in our judgment responsible because of the size of the weapon, the nature of the weapon and what it does to the region in terms of Israel's security," he said.

Russia's announcement last week that it would go ahead with the sale of sophisticated S-300 missiles to Syria -- and Mr. Assad's defiant boasts on Thursday about the durability of his Russian weapons supply -- have added a dangerous new dimension to the civil war in Syria, even as Mr. Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, have worked together to hold an international conference in hopes of finding a way to end the fighting.

Mr. Kerry, appearing with Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, suggested that Russia's continued sale of weaponry to Mr. Assad's government called into question its commitment to the political process that he and Mr. Lavrov announced in Moscow on May 7.

"We will learn very quickly whether or not they and others are acting in good faith" to negotiate a settlement, Mr. Kerry said in remarks that also criticized Hezbollah and Iran for intervening directly on Mr. Assad's behalf. "If they're not, the world will know it."

The prospects for a conference, originally intended to be held in June in Geneva, have appeared to wane as Mr. Assad's government has grown more assertive and members of the Syrian opposition have balked.

Mr. Westerwelle also criticized Russia's delivery of weapons, saying Germany had also raised the issue with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. "I would like to make this absolutely clear. We tell our Russian colleagues, don't endanger the conference in Geneva. The delivery of weapons to the Assad regime is totally wrong."

Russia's support for the Assad government has long been a concern for the United States. In a statement issued on Thursday, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, also expressed concerns about the Syrian government's "access to Russian banks."

At the United Nations, Russia has opposed Jordan's proposal that the Security Council undertake a fact-finding trip to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to investigate the flow of refugees. …

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