Next Score View the next score

    Britain calls for stronger action on Syria

    BEIRUT — Britain called on the United States and other allies Wednesday to do more to shape the Syrian opposition into a coherent force, saying the reelection of President Obama is an opportunity for the world to take stronger action to end the deadlocked civil war.

    Also Wednesday, Turkey said NATO members, including the United States, have discussed using Patriot missiles along the Syrian border. It was unclear whether the purpose was to protect a safe zone inside Syria or to protect Turkey from Syrian regime attacks.

    The announcements come as US allies appear to be anticipating a new, bolder approach from Obama now that he has won a second term.


    ‘‘With the reelection of Obama, what you have is a strong confidence on the British side that the US administration will be engaged more on Syria from the get-go,’’ said Shashank Joshi, an analyst at London’s Royal United Services Institute, a think tank.

    Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
    The day's top stories delivered every morning.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    It remains to be seen if the United States plans to change course in any significant way.

    Syria’s civil war, which activists estimate has killed more than 36,000 people since March 2011, has been the most deadly and prolonged conflict of the Arab Spring. World powers have shown no appetite for foreign military intervention, and there are fears that arming the fractious opposition could backfire, with powerful weapons falling into the hands of extremists.

    Against this backdrop, a diplomatic process that has proved increasingly moribund and faltering has been the only real option for peace thus far. In Washington, the State Department said the Obama administration was open to considering Patriot missiles along the Turkish border, as was done during the 1990 Gulf War and at the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003.

    Officials said that such a deployment had been raised by Turkish officials several weeks ago at NATO, but that there had been no formal request from Ankara. They stressed that Patriots are defensive and would not be used to help enforce potential no-fly zones over Syrian territory.


    ‘‘We’ve been working within NATO and with Turkey to look at what other defenses and support Turkey might require,’’ State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. ‘‘As of today we haven’t had a formal request of NATO. But as you know, in the past we have reinforced Turkey with Patriots. So we will await a formal request, then NATO will deliver aid.’’

    A Turkish foreign ministry official said planning for possible Patriot deployment to protect a safe zone inside Syria had been put on hold pending the US election.

    But the issue is likely to be taken up now that Obama has won a second term, he added, saying that any missile deployment might happen under a NATO umbrella. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

    A Patriot missile air defense system could be a boost for opposition forces in Syria. Since the summer, Assad’s regime has significantly increased its use of air power against rebels as government forces are stretched thin on multiple fronts.

    NATO has insisted it will not intervene in Syria without a clear UN mandate.


    During a trip to visit Syrian refugees in Jordan on Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain also announced his country will deal directly with Syrian rebel military leaders. Previously, Britain and the United States have acknowledged contacts only with exile groups and political opposition figures inside Syria.

    ‘‘There is an opportunity for Britain, for America, for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and like-minded allies to come together and try to help shape the opposition, outside Syria and inside Syria,’’ Cameron said. ‘‘And try to help them achieve their goal, which is our goal, of a Syria without Assad.’’