By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States is doubling nonlethal humanitarian assistance to the regime opposition in Syria to underscore America’s firm support for a political resolution to the two-year-old violent crisis in Syria.
The aid was announced by Kerry followed a marathon meeting with Syrian Opposition Coalition President Moaz al-Khatib, members of the coalition’s leadership and other international partners supporting the opposition. That meeting ended early April 21 in Istanbul. In a written announcement , Kerry said the aid is also “for the opposition’s advancement of an inclusive, tolerant vision for a post-Assad Syria.”
“This conflict is now spilling across borders and is now threatening neighboring countries,” Kerry said during a press briefing with al-Khatib and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. “The president directed me to step up our efforts.”
The new assistance is scheduled to be provided by April 30.
Opposition leader al-Khatib told journalists that “our revolution is for the entire Syrian people.” The coalition issued a communiqué at the conclusion of the meeting declaring that its stated aim is “a political solution” to the civil conflict, that it rejected extremism, and that a post-Assad Syria would be both pluralistic and based on the rule of law.
The United States pledged an additional $123 million assistance package that brings the total U.S. nonlethal assistance to the opposition and to civil society groups to $250 million since civil strife began in Syria.
And Kerry announced approximately $25 million in additional food assistance for Syrians who remain inside Syria as well as those who have fled to nearby countries, recognizing the devastating humanitarian situation as a result of the ongoing crisis. “The United States is the largest donor of food assistance both within Syria and for refugees in the affected neighboring countries and is providing a total of $409 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis,” the written statement said.
The food aid will provide 25,500 metric tons of wheat — providing a four-month supply of flour to more than 1 million people — as well as food rations for those inside Syria and refugees in Jordan affected by the violence, the statement said. And the U.N. World Food Programme will begin distributing the wheat to those in need in all 14 Syrian governorates as quickly as possible, the State Department said.
According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people have been killed in the ongoing civil conflict.
The crisis began March 15, 2011, largely as popular, peaceful protests, but expanded into a civil conflict in response to a violent crackdown by the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Assad deployed the Syrian army in April 2011 to halt the nationwide protests. The protesters have demanded the resignation of Assad and his regime.
Kerry also urged international partners gathered in Istanbul, as well as Friends of the Syrian People, to make similar pledges of assistance to the coalition and the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the military wing of the opposition coalition, with the goal of reaching $1 billion in total international support for the opposition, the statement said.
“The United States will also use a portion of this non-lethal assistance to implement President Obama’s directive to provide an expanded range of support to the Supreme Military Council,” the statement said. “We intend to expand this new support beyond military food rations and medical kits to include other types of non-lethal supplies, which would be determined in collaboration with SMC leadership.”
Kerry said that the United States will work with the Syrian coalition and other opposition representatives to determine how the new nonlethal assistance can best support their efforts to meet the needs of the Syrian people and lead the way to a political transition that will bring an end to the civil conflict.
Kerry met with al-Khatib and the Syrian Opposition Coalition and foreign ministers from the core group of nations supporting opposition efforts in Syria. This group is known as the London 11, and, in addition to the United States, involves Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, according to a senior State Department official in a background briefing en route to Istanbul April 19.
While in Istanbul Kerry is also scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He also will hold security and bilateral consultations with Turkish leaders, according to a senior State Department official.
The secretary leaves April 22 for meetings with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels that will include a series of bilateral talks, the NATO-Russia Council and a separate meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.