World and Nation

Kerry criticizes Iran, Russia for shipping arms to Syria

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the Syrian opposition is capable of properly handling the military support it receives.

“There is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not at some point in time fall into the wrong hands,” Kerry said in a joint news conference in Riyadh with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud. “But I will tell you this. There is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them, and the indication is that they are increasing their pressure as a result of that.”

Kerry’s comments follow a conference in Rome last week on the issue of building support for a coalition of opponents to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, which Kerry attended. He spoke to concerns that aid that was meant for the Western-backed group might be diverted into the hands of extremists.

While President Barack Obama has decided that the United States will not provide arms to the rebels, Kerry announced last week that it would send food and medical supplies to the armed wing of the Syrian opposition. The United States has also been training a select cadre of Syrian rebels in Jordan under a covert program run by the CIA, officials have said.

Other nations are also sending aid to the rebels. Britain is expected soon to announce a package of nonlethal military assistance, which could include items like bulletproof vests, vehicles and night-vision equipment. Saudi Arabia has been financing a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and channeling them to fighters.

The Saudi foreign minister made it clear Monday that Saudi Arabia had every intention of continuing to provide support to the rebels, though he did not discuss specifics.

“As for providing enough aid and security for the Syrians, Saudi Arabia will do everything within its capabilities to help in this,” he said. “Morally, we have a duty to protect them.”

Saud said that Assad’s military was purposely firing missiles at times of day when civilians might be gathering to receive food or medicine.

“Nobody who has done that to his citizens can claim a right to lead a country,” he said. While relations between Kerry and Saud seemed warm, the two diplomats did not discuss ways in which they might be coordinating efforts to aid the Syrian opposition, nor any differences over what to provide or to whom.