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US supports arming Syrian opposition

Kerry wants to ensure help goes to moderates

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the Obama administration supports efforts by Middle Eastern nations to send arms to the opposition in Syria, and had had discussions with foreign officials to make sure those arms go to moderate forces rather than extremists.

‘‘We had discussions about the types of weapons that are being transferred, by whom,’’ Kerry said after a meeting with the prime minister of Qatar, which has been involved in arming the Syrian opposition.

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Kerry’s comments were the most direct public affirmation to date that the Obama administration supports efforts to arm the Syrian resistance, provided that the arms are sent by other nations and care is taken to direct them to factions the United States supports.

His comments appeared to signal a shift in the administration’s strategy on Syria, as well as a more transparent effort to coordinate US support for the opponents of President Bashar Assad with the efforts of other nations.

Explaining the administration’s approach, Kerry said that the Obama administration had gained new confidence in recent months that the Syrian opposition coalition, which the United States supports, can minimize the risk of weapons falling into hostile hands.

“We did discuss the question of the ability to try to guarantee that it’s going to the right people, and to the moderate Syrian opposition coalition, and I think it’s really in the last months that that has developed as a capacity that we have greater confidence in,’’ he said.

He said there was no need for the United States to provide arms now because other nations are already sending enough.

“It is that awareness that informs the president’s decision about what is needed, and what the United States is prepared do to at this point at time,’’ Kerry said.

He also asserted that the United States was not directing the arms shipments by other nations; rather, he said, the United States is consulting with them about what was being provided and to whom.

‘‘I don’t think the United States is engaged in the specific allotment process,’’ he added. ‘‘But obviously we are aware of it.’’

Kerry spoke at a joint news conference with the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. The minister said he sensed a new openness on the part of the United States to the provision of military support to the Syrian opposition.

Before arriving in Qatar on Tuesday, Kerry discussed the issue with officials in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The United States supports a plan by Britain to supply the Syrian opposition with what is called nonlethal military assistance — equipment other than weapons and munitions — which might include vehicles, night vision equipment, and body armor. The British government is expected to announce that assistance soon.

Kerry said last week at a conference in Rome that the United States was prepared to provide food and medical supplies to the military wing of the opposition, the first time it has committed itself publicly to direct aid.

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