Kerry: ‘No Guarantee’ That Weapons From U.S. Allies Won’t Go to Jihadists

By Patrick Goodenough | March 5, 2013 | 4:45am EST

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Photo: State Department) – In Saudi Arabia Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry played down concerns about weapons from U.S. Gulf allies ending up in the hands of radical jihadists in Syria, pointing instead to the arms the Assad regime is getting from Iran and others.

During a joint press appearance with his Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faisal, Kerry was asked, “Are the arms that Saudi Arabia is already providing to the Syrian rebels at risk of falling into the wrong hands and basically being part of the problem that you have identified?”

He replied that there was “no guarantee that one weapon or another might not at some point in time fall into the wrong hands,” but expressed optimism that the Syrian opposition was now able to “make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them.”

Then – although the question obviously referred to jihadist elements among the anti-Assad rebels – Kerry turned the spotlight onto those arming the other side in the civil war.

“Believe me, the bad actors, regrettably, have no shortage of their ability to get weapons from Iran, from Hezbollah, from Russia, unfortunately, and that’s happening,” he said.

The parties he listed – Russia, Iran and its Shi’ite proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah – are Syrian President Bashar Assad’s closest allies and supporters.

But experts have been warning for months that arms shipments from U.S.-friendly Sunni governments, like the one represented by the man Kerry was speaking alongside in Riyadh, are benefiting dangerous Salafi-jihadist groups in Syria, including some with links to al-Qaeda.

“Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists,” the New York Times reported last October, citing U.S. and Mideast officials.

As Kerry began his first foreign trip as secretary of state, Heritage Foundation senior research fellow James Phillips noted that radical jihadists in Syria “have enjoyed the lion’s share of arms provided by private donations from Islamist organizations in the oil-rich Arab gulf states.”

A United Nations-commissioned report on Syria released last month highlighted the influence of foreign patronage in the deepening conflict.

“The escalation of violence and increasing intervention of external sponsors has also led to radicalization among the anti-government armed groups, and the proportion of fighters with Salafi inclinations has augmented including local and foreign extremists,” it said.

“The financial support provided by donors not only strengthened Salafi factions but also pushed mainstream insurgents toward joining them due to their better ability to provide them with the necessary logistical supplies.”

Among such groups, the report said, the al-Nusra Front stood out due to the “use of more aggressive tactics clearly benefiting from better financial support.”

Al-Nusra, reportedly linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, is the group that the U.S. last December designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

During a press briefing Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell was asked whether Kerry during his talks with the Saudis had asked them to channel their military aid to “the moderates, instead of giving them to the al-Nusra Front.”

“Look, I can’t get into our private diplomacy and countries have made their own sovereign decisions,” Ventrell replied. “We support the opposition that is looking for a democratic, inclusive, and moderate Syria. So those are the people we are supporting with our non-lethal assistance, and others are making their decisions.”

Kerry was in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday before heading for Qatar, the final stop in his 10-day, nine-country tour.

Along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar is considered the most significant source of weapons to Syrian rebels over the past year.

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