US denies Kerry said Syria policy failing

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US administration on Monday, Feb 3, 2014, stood by its policy on Syria denying that Secretary of State John Kerry had called for a change of strategy and to arm opposition rebels.

Quoting influential Republican senators, some US media claimed that in a meeting on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich the top US diplomat had said US policy in Syria was failing and it was time for a change.

"No one in the administration thinks we're doing enough until the humanitarian crisis has been solved and the civil war has ended," said State Department spokesman Jen Psaki.

She told reporters she had taken part in the hour-long meeting with US lawmakers in the German city, but insisted that "at no point did (Kerry) state what I think was quoted, that the process had failed".

"They did have a discussion about a range of options that the administration has always had at its disposal," she added.

The meeting was more of a "listening session ... than it was a briefing session" by Mr Kerry, "because he was hearing from... probably about 20 members, about what they would like to do", Ms Psaki said.

As for arming the rebels, "at no point did he raise it, did he commit to it, did he say that it was a process being worked on and so that's a mischaracterisation of what was said".

"Of course we need to continue to consider what more we can do. But that is not a change in strategy," she said.

"That is an acknowledgement of what we all know: that there are ongoing discussions within the administration, that we continue to work with our international partners and through interagency process on how to approach each step in this."

Despite heavy criticism from some of his key allies such as Saudi Arabia, President Barack Obama has resolutely refused to provide US heavy weaponry to the opposition rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Washington has been providing non-lethal support directly to the rebel Supreme Military Council such as body armour, computers and night-vision goggles.

And US media last week claimed that some light arms were being shipped to the rebels, although this has not been confirmed.

Three years into the war, more than 136,000 people have now been killed, millions have been driven from their homes, and fighting, complicated by increasing militant groups on the ground, is largely at a stalemate.

According to Republican senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, Mr Kerry admitted in Munich that "we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy", Mr Graham said, quoted by the Washington Post.

But the White House hit back that this was wishful thinking "that reflects how Senator Graham and Senator McCain view our policy, not how Secretary Kerry views it".

White House spokesman Jay Carney added Mr Obama believed "it is absolutely necessary to press for a negotiated political resolution to this conflict".

"There is no other alternative."

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