World Bulletin/News Desk
Syria's foreign minister condemned on Saturday a move by the United States to give non-lethal aid to rebels who are fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, accusing Washington of double standards.
"I do not understand how the United States can give support to groups that kill the Syrian people," he said during a press conference in Tehran with Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's foreign minister.
"This is nothing but a double-standard policy ... one who seeks a political solution does not punish the Syrian people."
Iran's Salehi said the U.S. move would prolong the Syrian conflict, an uprising-turned-civil war in which 70,000 people have been killed.
"If you really feel sorry about the ongoing situation in Syria you should force the opposition to sit at the negotiation table with the Syrian government and put an end to bloodshed," he said.
"Why do you encourage the opposition to continue these acts of violence?"
Meanwhile, new U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday he believed U.S. policy of giving only "non-lethal support" to Syria's opposition was the correct one.
Hagel's comments, at his first news briefing since taking over the Pentagon on Wednesday, came a day after the United States said it would for the first time give non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels and more than double its aid to Syria's civilian opposition.
The moves disappointed opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who are clamoring for Western weapons, something U.S. President Barack Obama has so far refused to provide.
Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta, disclosed earlier this month that he joined the heads of the State Department and CIA last year in recommending arming the rebels.
Still, Panetta told Congress on Feb. 7 he ultimately supported Obama's decision to restrict aid to Syria.
"It's clear what ... the administration's policy is on Syria: non-lethal assistance," Hagel told reporters.
"I think the policy that the United States has is the correct policy."
More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in a fierce conflict that began with peaceful anti-Assad protests nearly two years ago. Some 860,000 have fled abroad and several million are displaced within the country or need humanitarian assistance.
The United States has so far given $385 million in humanitarian aid, but Obama has been wary of sending weapons, arguing it would be difficult to prevent them from falling into the hands of militants who could use them on Western targets.
Republican Senator John McCain, one of the leading advocates for greater U.S. involvement in Syria, said the conflict was increasingly destabilizing neighboring countries.
"To say that we're really going to change the equation with non-lethal aid is not going to do it. And I think we have written a shameful chapter in American history," McCain told CBS News earlier on Wednesday.
The U.S. offer this week of medical aid and food rations fell far short of rebel demands for sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to help turn the tables against Assad's mostly Russian-supplied forces.
It also stopped short of providing other forms of non-lethal assistance such as bullet-proof vests, armored personnel vehicles and military training to the rebels.Last Mod: 02 Mart 2013, 15:10