The United States government is officially recognizing the offices of the opposition Syrian National Coalition as a “diplomatic foreign mission,” Reuters reported, both diminishing the legitimacy of the Bashar al-Assad regime and strengthening ties between the United States and the opposition.
The recognition is an attempt by the United States to bolster the moderate elements of the opposition while distinguishing them from the thousands of foreign jihadists that have flocked to Syria to fight Assad. While some in the coalition are moderate anti-Assad advocates, the group also contains the Free Syria Army, which causes concern among American officials.
The United States closed the Syrian Embassy in Washington in March, while the opposition coalition has offices in Washington and New York. While the move clearly limits the relationship between the United States and the Syrian government, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf was clear that this was a “largely symbolic” move and “not tantamount to recognition of the SOC as the government of Syria.”
The State Department also announced that it would increase aid to the rebels by $27 million in non-lethal assistance, which includes communications technology, food rations, and transportation.
Ahmad Jarba, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, welcomed the change. “This is an important step in the path toward a new Syria, its recognition on the international stage, and its relations with Syrian nationals in the US,” Jarba, who is in Washington for talks with the United States government, stated. This is Jarba’s first visit to the nation’s capital.
The visit comes at a time when the international debate over just how much aid the United States should give the rebels is in full gear. Opposition groups have demanded powerful weapons they claim are necessary to battle Assad’s military, including anti-aircraft missiles that can be held over the shoulder. So far, the United States has limited its aid to the rebels, though still providing defense mechanisms. The attraction many radical Islamists have to the cause against Assad has complicated the American position on the war, even with Russia as Assad’s most formidable and reliable ally. Christian Syrian leaders have thus begun to request of the American government to limit their provisions of weapons as they call for a return to pre-war stability.
The war is estimated to have claimed more than 100,000 lives already, and few signs of the violence concluding have surfaced. Yesterday, however, a tentative truce was announced in the city of Homs, as rebels agreed to retreat from the war-ravaged town. The truce leads up to presidential elections in June, for which Assad is considered the frontrunner and both opposition forces and the American government have called “phony.”