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With Annan Out, U.S. Is Pressured To Act In Syria


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

What now? That's the question many in and out of Syria are asking, one day after Kofi Annan announced he's quitting as special envoy to Syria. Annan blamed his resignation, in part, on a divided U.N. Security Council. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, activists are now calling on Washington to work around the U.N. and do more to support Syria's rebels.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Radwan Ziadeh is a member of the Syrian National Council, a group that was hoping to follow the example of Libya's Transitional Council and rally the world to push out a dictator.

DR. RADWAN ZIADEH: The inactions of the international community undermine the Syrian national interest because what's the main purpose of establishing the SNC? It was to mobilize the international community to take actions against the Assad regime. We failed to do that.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials complain about infighting among Syrian opposition figures. Ziadeh says the real trouble has been divisions in the U.N. Security Council. Now he'd like to see the U.S. work around that, though he's not hopeful, given what he hears from the State Department spokesperson.

ZIADEH: When they asked her about there is any way to protect the civilians, she said, there is no military intervention, but our hearts with the Syrian people in Aleppo. We don't need your hearts. We need your actions.

KELEMEN: Ziadeh says President Obama has quietly taken some steps, authorizing the CIA to do more to help Syrian rebels, though White House officials insist they're still only providing nonlethal aid. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department has allowed a new Washington-based Syrian support group to raise private money for the Free Syrian Army, the main rebel movement. Brian Sayers lobbies on behalf of the group.

BRIAN SAYERS: The U.S. recognizes that the political process failed, and I think that they are trying to find ways, you know, in which to help the FSA. And this is one of those ways.

KELEMEN: But Sayers, a former NATO and State Department official, says the Syria Support Group is still working out arrangements to get money to the FSA, and he says the rebels need more than that.

SAYERS: They want the U.S., primarily, to provide effective weapons and intelligence so that they can begin to take out the air power and the tanks of the Assad regime. On top of that, because they want to set up safe zones that are open to all ethnic groups and all sects, they are going to need support to defend those safe zones.

KELEMEN: He says the nine military councils of the Free Syrian Army are committed to a multiethnic and multireligious Syria. Those are important points for the U.S. Still, there are many questions about arming rebels, questions that Senator John Kerry raised in a hearing this week with Syria expert Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

SENATOR JOHN KERRY: Do you know precisely who you'd provide weapons to?

ANDREW TABLER: Absolutely not. But...

KERRY: Don't you think we need to know that?

TABLER: Absolutely.

KELEMEN: Tabler says U.S. officials are trying to do a better job mapping the various groups in Syria. There are concerns here about the growing role of jihadist fighters in the country, but Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution says that's overstated.

DR. MARTIN INDYK: Syria has been a secular country for a long time. You know, it's not a natural breeding ground for al-Qaida there. It's the conflict that provides the opening.

KELEMEN: And al-Qaida feeds on that, says James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation.

JAMES DOBBINS: The best way to marginalize extremist groups like that is not to suppress the insurgents, but to support the insurgents. This is what we did in Bosnia. This is what we did in Kosovo. And this is what we did in Libya, where we supported the insurgents.

KELEMEN: But activist Radwan Ziadeh says Syrian rebels aren't counting on the U.S. at this point.

ZIADEH: But the U.S. did nothing, just the blah-blah statements.

KELEMEN: He says Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have more influence, and that's not likely to change, Ziadeh says, with the White House in election mode. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.