US hands tied on Syria until poll is over -- Obama
BARACK Obama's government has warned its Western allies and Syria's opposition groups that it can do nothing to intervene in the country's crisis until after November's presidential election.
Despite the pleas of Syrian rebels, who are seeking assistance to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, the White House has refused all requests for heavy weapons and intelligence support.
Syrian lobby groups in Washington, who only a few weeks ago were expressing hope that the Obama administration might approve the supply of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, said they had now been forced to "take a reality pill" by the US government.
It is understood that the Syrian Support Group (SSG), the political wing of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), recently prepared a document requesting 1,000 RPG-29 anti-tank missiles, 500 SAM-7 rockets and 750 23mm machine guns, as well as body armour and secure satellite phones. It also wanted $6m (€4.9m) to pay fighters.
However, the group abandoned plans to present its demands after being warned they would be rejected.
"Basically, the message is very clear; nothing is going to happen until after the election; in fact nothing will happen until after inauguration (in January 2013). And that is the same message coming from everyone, including the Turks and the Qataris," said a source close to the group.
The Obama administration has also made clear to its allies that it will not intervene, in a message that was carried to London last week by Tom Donilon, the White House national security adviser.
Sources in Washington who were familiar with the matter said Mr Donilon had made it "abundantly clear" that there was no room for increased American involvement in Syria.
Syrian lobby groups in Washington have thus far been reluctant to speak publicly about their frustrations with the Obama government for fear of alienating White House officials, but also giving succour to the Assad regime.
However, a third lobby group, which asked to remain anonymous, said it too had come up against a White House "red line".
"No one wants to touch this," the group's representative said. "Not the White House, not the Congressional committee on foreign affairs. It is clear we will have to play a longer game."
Fears that the disparate rebel groups are being infiltrated by al-Qaeda have also reduced the appetite in the US for arming the rebels, either directly or with the help of third-party countries such as Libya, Qatar or Saudi Arabia.
The American position means there is little hope of any swift resolution to the Syrian crisis, with the stage set instead for a protracted civil war. Russia repeated yesterday that it was "unrealistic" of the West to expect it to convince Mr Assad to step down.
Abdulbaset Sieda, the chairman of the official Syrian National Council, the other principal opposition group, called on the US not to abandon the rebels for the sake of domestic political calculations, following the latest alleged massacre in the village of Tremseh last week.
"We want for America and the Western countries to carry out their responsibilities," he said.
"With regard to America, specifically, we would like to say to President Obama that waiting for election day to make the right decision on Syria is unacceptable for the Syrians." (©Daily Telegraph, London)