President Obama on Wednesday said the United States was not prepared to recognize the Syrian opposition umbrella group, citing concerns about providing arms to “extremist elements” within the fledgling coalition.
Obama called the group, which is working to enlist international assistance in efforts to oust President Bashar al-Assad “a legitimate representation of the aspirations of the Syrian people,” but said, “We’re not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile.”
“One of the things we have to be on guard about particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures is that we’re indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm or do Israelis harm or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security,” Obama said during his first news conference since winning a second term last week.
The Obama administration has been working to try and help the Syrian opposition organize its leadership so it can receive more direct support. The newly formed leadership council now includes more representation for Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities, an important step it took over the weekend during a conference in Qatar. U.S. officials had found the earlier iteration of the group, the Paris-based Syrian National Council, as too focused on political infighting and disengaged with opposition figures inside Syria.
France on Tuesday became the first Western nation to recognize the group formally.
--Sara Sorcher contributed contributed to this article.