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Hillary Clinton: Iran will do 'whatever it takes' to prop up Syrian 'crony'

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that the US would send another $45 million in aid to Syrian rebels. But that pales in comparison to what Iran is doing to save President Assad.

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Some critics of the Obama administration say the US should be providing more than just communications equipment, and that what the rebels really need is anti-aircraft weaponry to deter Assad’s aerial bombardments.

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Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut both advocate arming the rebels. The two senators also agree with critics who worry that the US risks losing influence with the forces that may eventually govern Syria.

The meeting Clinton hosted on the sidelines of the United Nations sessions this week involved a core group of about two dozen countries from the larger Friends of Syria organization. On the Syrian side, the meeting involved representatives from the Syrian National Council, the expatriate opposition organization, and also some representatives of the revolutionary councils.

The gathering took place as fighting raged in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, where rebel forces launched a new offensive against the Syrian Army. In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that new intelligence suggests that the Assad regime has recently moved some of its chemical weapons. All indications were that the moves were done to secure the materials, and that Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons remain safe and under control, he said.

The meeting reflected efforts to solidify gains rebels have made. Officials in attendance acknowledge that Assad is unlikely to fall “tomorrow,” but they insist that his loss of territory – as well as other signs – mean the end is approaching. As a result, these countries are focusing on preparing Syrians for “the day after.” 

“The regime still has some strengths, but it is slipping and the trend is clear,” says a senior French official. Assad “is losing control of the ground step by step.”

The French have advocated creation of a provisional government, but “there is still a lot to do before we have a better-coordinated opposition,” the senior French official says. “But it does seem that at some point we need something for the Syrians and the international community to see” – and to show that there will be a better alternative to Assad.

On Friday, Clinton acknowledged that Syria’s situation has only worsened in 18 months of fighting, but she said the path for delivering a better future is clear.

“Conditions in Syria continue to deteriorate as the Assad regime relentlessly wages war on its own people,” Clinton said. The answer, she said, is that “the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin.”

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