The United States is helping “more and better weapons in recent weeks” to Syria’s rebels, including anti-tank weaponry, for their fight against President Bashar al-Assad regime, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama’s administration insisted it was not directly supplying the weapons or providing funding, with Gulf states paying for the new arms, the Post said, citing U.S. and foreign officials.
But Washington has stepped up links with the rebels and regional militaries allied with them, playing a role in the rebel’s foreign support network, according to the report.
“We are increasing our nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond in order to have the biggest impact on what we are collectively doing,” a senior State Department official told the Post.
If true, the U.S. administration’s move to increase contact with the rebels and boost information-sharing with Gulf states who back them would mark a shift in policy for the Obama administration, which has so far resisted overt support for the armed groups battling Assad forces.
“Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border,” the Post reported.
But U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted U.S. policy had not changed, saying the Post had “stretched its sourcing.”
“The United States has made a decision to provide nonlethal support to civilian members of the opposition,” she said, pointing to shipments of medical and communications equipment.
“But with regard to any assertions with regard to lethal (aid), we are not involved in that,” Nuland added.
“We don’t think that adding fuel to this fire is the right way to go.”
The spokeswoman did not explicitly indicate whether the United States was urging allies to avoid providing weapons to Syrian rebels.
Syria’s anti-regime revolt has entered its 15th month of relentless violence that has killed more than 12,000 people amid growing fears that a U.N.-backed peace plan will fail.
Iran sends arms to Syria, flouting U.N. sanctions
Meanwhile, reports have emerged that Syria remains the top destination for Iranian arms shipments in violation of a U.N. Security Council ban on weapons exports by the Islamic Republic, according to a confidential report on Iran sanctions-busting seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Iran, like Russia, is one of Syria’s few allies as it presses ahead with a 14-month old assault on opposition forces determined to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
News of the panel’s report came as Tehran and the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency try narrow their differences on how to tackle concerns over Iran’s atomic program, and as Iran prepares for talks with the five permanent council members and Germany in Iraq next week.
The new report, submitted by a panel of sanctions-monitoring experts to the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee, said the panel investigated three large illegal shipments of Iranian weapons over the past year.
“Iran has continued to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments,” it said. “Two of these cases involved (Syria), as were the majority of cases inspected by the Panel during its previous mandate, underscoring that Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers.”