U.S. mulls humanitarian aid, new coalition for Syria

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2012 5:23 PM
U.S. mulls humanitarian aid, new coalition for Syria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes to meet soon with international partners to consider how to halt Syria's violence and provide humanitarian aid to civilians under attack from their own government, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

"In the coming days we will continue our very active discussions ... to crystallize the international community's next steps in that effort to halt the slaughter of the Syrian people," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Carney said the discussions, which would include the opposition Syrian National Council, were aimed at helping the process "move toward a peaceful, political transition, (a) democratic transition in Syria," but gave no details.

The State Department said the new group could take the form of a "Friends of Democratic Syria" and would look at tightening sanctions on the Syrian government and ways to get humanitarian aid to its people.

"We on the U.S. side have already been looking at what we can do to prepare ourselves on both the financial and the legal side so that we're ready to provide humanitarian aid such as food and medicine," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.

"But we're going to have to work with our international partners, we're going to have to work with neighboring states, to identify coordinators on the ground who can assist in receiving this aid and in distributing it."

Any international move to bring in humanitarian aid could open a dangerous and complicated new chapter in Syria's crisis, with air drops seen as expensive and ineffective and any land routes open to attack from Syrian forces.

The weekend failure of a U.N. Security Council resolution against Syria, vetoed by Russia and China, has focused attention on how to tighten sanctions already in place and target the finances of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

ISOLATING, PRESSURING

But the White House continued to stress it was not actively considering military intervention to prevent a crackdown on opponents of Assad's rule in which thousands have been killed.

"We never rule anything out in a situation like this. But we are pursuing a path that includes isolating and pressuring the Assad regime so that it stops its heinous slaughtering of its own people," Carney said.

Syria's neighbor Turkey, a U.S. ally in NATO, has called for more help for Syria's opposition and offered to host an international conference to discuss next steps. U.S. officials said a number of other countries had also offered to host such a meeting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is due to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington early next week, suggested that a way must be found to get humanitarian assistance to civilians trapped by military assault, particularly in the opposition bastion of Homs.

Nuland said the United States was looking at a number of possibilities for aid delivery, although it was not ready to publicly discuss moves that could boost chances for open confrontation with Syrian forces.

"There are always land, sea and air options. Frankly we are not at the stage of ventilating options. We are talking to various partners in preparation for the forming of this friends group," Nuland said.

"As we've repeatedly said, we are not looking for military options," she said.

(Reporting By Alister Bull, Matt Spetalnick and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Xavier Briand)