US criticises Russian pledge to send weapons to Syria

John Kerry says actions threaten to disrupt efforts to negotiate political settlement

US secretary of state John Kerry speaks to the media about Syria at the State Department in Washington. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

US secretary of state John Kerry speaks to the media about Syria at the State Department in Washington. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

 

US secretary of state John Kerry today strongly criticised Russia’s pledge to send advanced anti-aircraft weapons to Syria, saying that its actions threatened to disrupt efforts to negotiate a political settlement of the Syrian conflict and posed an unacceptable risk to Israel.

“Whether it’s an old contract or not, it has a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region, and it does put Israel at risk,” Kerry said at the US state department, making his most pointed statement yet about Russia’s arming of the government of President Bashar Assad of Syria.

“It is not in our opinion responsible because of the size of the weapon, the nature of the weapon and what it does to the region in terms of Israel’s security,” he said.

Russia’s announcement last week that it would go ahead with the sale of sophisticated S-300 missiles to Syria - and Mr Assad’s defiant boasts on Thursday about the durability of his Russian weapons supply - have added a dangerous new dimension to the civil war in Syria, even as Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, have worked together to hold an international conference in hopes of finding a way to end the fighting.

Mr Kerry, appearing with Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, suggested that Russia’s continued sale of weaponry to Mr Assad’s government called into question its commitment to the political process that he and Lavrov announced in Moscow on May 7th.

The prospects for a conference, originally intended to be held in June in Geneva, have appeared to wane as Mr Assad’s government has grown more assertive and members of the Syrian opposition have balked. “We will learn very quickly whether or not they and others are acting in good faith” to negotiate a settlement, Mr Kerry said in remarks that also criticized Hezbollah and Iran for intervening directly on Assad’s behalf. “If they’re not, the world will know it.”

Mr Westerwelle also criticised Russia’s delivery of weapons, saying Germany had also raised the issue with the government of president Vladimir Putin of Russia. “I would like to make this absolutely clear. We tell our Russian colleagues, don’t endanger the conference in Geneva,” he said. “The delivery of weapons to the Assad regime is totally wrong.”

Earlier a Russian arms manufacturer said it is signing a contract to deliver at least 10 fighter jets to Syria. Sergei Korotkov, general director of the MiG company that makes the jets, told Russian news agencies today that a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss terms and deadlines of a new contract supplying MiG-29 M/M2 fighters to Syria.

Mr Korotkov did not say how many MiGs Syria was buying, but said it would be “more than 10”. Russia has previously said that it would only fulfil outstanding arms contracts with Syria. Over 70,000 people have died in the two-year Syrian civil war.

New York Times/AP

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