US backtracks on claims Russia is arming Syrian regime
State department acknowledges Damascus already owned attack helicopters, cited by Hillary Clinton as escalating violence
Associated Press in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Fri 15 Jun 2012 00.20 BST
The US state department has acknowledged that Russian helicopters it claimed had been sent recently to the Syrian regime were, in fact, refurbished ones already owned by Damascus.
Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, claimed on Tuesday that "the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria".
The state department admitted details had been omitted from Clinton's speech in which she accused Russia of escalating the violent situation in Syria. But spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "Whether they are new or they are refurbished, the concern remains that they will be used for the exact same purpose that the current helicopters in Syria are being used, and that is to kill civilians.
"These are helicopters that have been out of the fight for some six months or longer. They are freshly refurbished. The question is simply what one expects them to be used for when one sees what the current fleet is doing. Every helicopter that is flying and working is attacking a new civilian location so the concern is when you add three more freshly refurbished helicopters to the fight, that is three more that can be used to kill civilians."
Clinton's accusation prompted a stern Russian denial and countercharges of hypocrisy against the US for selling military equipment, including jet engines and patrol boats, to Bahrain despite civil strife in the Arab state.
The US fears Syria is sliding into a violent sectarian conflict and is unhappy that Russia has shown little willingness to help in the US-led efforts against President Bashar al-Assad.
Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin meet next week for the first time since Putin's return to the presidency last month. The Russian leader is likely to use the session to set out complaints about US foreign policy in several areas.
Clinton's charge over the helicopters could become an afterthought as the US, Russia and other nations engage in tough diplomacy to bring peace to Syria after more than a year of brutal government crackdowns on peaceful protesters and the emergence of an increasingly fierce armed insurgency.
The US had hoped to broaden international efforts to include Russia and China, who have twice prevented the UN security council from adopting binding sanctions against Assad's government.
The Russians have refused to entertain any talk of a Libya-style military intervention in Syria, its closest ally in the Arab world and the host of its only naval base in the Mediterranean aea. It has also put a far greater emphasis on criticising armed Syrian rebels for their attacks, with language that has appeared to equate their violence to that of the Assad regime.
Source: the Guardian.
Source: the Guardian.