Pentagon: In Syria, Iran Helps Asad, al-Qaida Foments Violence

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)