President Obama won’t recognize Syrian rebels

Syrian opposition fighters celebrate on the strategic Syrian border town of Ras Ayn.
(Kilic Bulent / AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama drew a careful limit around the U.S. role in the civil war in Syria, saying he would not recognize the opposition as a “government in exile,” or yield to mounting international pressure to begin arming militias battling President Bashar Assad.

Obama said at a White House news conference that his administration would continue providing humanitarian aid to victims and refugees, and keep pressing the opposition to become more unified and to exclude extremists.

He said that the United States viewed a newly formed umbrella opposition group as “a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people.” But he said he was not yet prepared “to recognize them as some sort of government in exile.” France formally recognized the new umbrella group as a sovereign government Tuesday.

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The administration is facing pressure in the United States and from allies to do more to end the civil war, which is spreading violence across Syria’s borders and threatening to engulf the Mideast in a sectarian conflict. Governments in Turkey and Israel, among others, are looking to Washington to prevent a further expansion of the war.


Despite predictions that his administration would move more aggressively in Syria after the election, Obama gave no sign that his team is reconsidering its approach.

The president said U.S. officials aren’t considering sending weapons to the opposition because of concern that extremists could gain access to them.

“We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition and one of the things that we have to be on guard about, particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures, is that we are not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks that would do Americans harms, or do Israel harm or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security,” he said.

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