WASHINGTON, May 31, 2012 — In Syria, where Bashar al-Asad’s government continues to massacre its population, Iran is supporting the regime and members of al-Qaida are in the country for their own purposes, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby told reporters today.
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“We remain deeply troubled and concerned by the ongoing violence in Syria and by the horrific acts of the Asad regime against its own people,” Kirby told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing.
“And we certainly have seen reports and have reason to believe that Iran continues to assist the Asad regime in committing these acts of atrocities against the Syrian people,” he added.
Other nations share that concern, the Pentagon spokesman said, and some are providing lethal assistance to opponents of the Syrian regime.
Kirby said defense officials have seen but cannot confirm reports that the Iranians are using commercial airliners to move arms into Syria.
“The larger issue here is that the Iranian regime, Tehran, continues to support, in tangible and intangible ways, the Asad regime,” he added, “and that needs to stop.”
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the administration has been focused on the need to bring about a political transition in Syria sooner rather than later.
“The longer that Asad and his thugs are allowed to brutally murder the Syrian people, the more likely it becomes a sectarian civil war; the more likely that it spills over Syrian borders; the more likely that it transforms into a proxy war with different players,” Carney said, “including … Iran, which is already engaging in malignant behavior with regards to the Syrian situation, stepping up that kind of activity and not being alone in doing that.”
What’s happening in Syria, he added, “only underscores the urgent need to take action to prevent further devolution of the situation there, take action to support the process of political transition, to isolate and pressure Asad into taking himself out of power so that that transition can proceed.”
At the Pentagon, Kirby said defense officials believe “al-Qaida has some presence inside Syria and interest in fomenting violence in Syria.”
He added, “We do not believe they share the goals of the Syrian opposition or that they are even embraced by the opposition … The sense that we get is that it is primarily members of [al-Qaida in Iraq] that are migrating into Syria.”
Syria drew renewed world attention following a massacre May 25 of more than 100 people north of the city of Homs which international observers largely blamed on forces linked to the government.
U.S. policy on Syria is to work with international partners to put diplomatic and economic pressure on Damascus to help stem the humanitarian crisis.
The Defense Department supports the administration’s position, Kirby said, while providing options to the nation’s leaders for other potential responses.
“That’s what we do and we would be irresponsible if we weren’t thinking about options, whether or not they’re called for, he said”
The military can be valuable in any number of scenarios, not all of which involve combat, Kirby added.
“The point is we’re doing the prudent thing that we’re supposed to do, which is to think through options. But we’ve not been called to present any,” the Pentagon spokesman said.
“These are decisions that only the policymakers can make,” Kirby said. “And again, we’re supporting the commander in chief’s intent, which is to keep the pressure on [the Asad regime] diplomatically and economically.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)