“The military option is not off the table but it is something that, we think, is probably not a route that the US should take,” said Beth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East at the US State Department.
Jones, who has actively shaped her country’s strategy in the ongoing Syria crisis, justified the US decision. “Syria poses difficult challenges for the US and NATO. After all, the country is right at the border of Turkey which is a NATO ally, and therefore the US strategic interest is doubled. The US has decided to station Patriot missiles in Turkey to protect our NATO ally from any Syrian misadventure”, she explained.
Jones has led several US delegations in talks on Syria including the recent Friends of Syria meetings at the Moroccan city Marrakesh and earlier in Qatari capital Doha. “One of the most important things that has been accomplished is the pulling together of various opposition groups and representatives at the Doha meeting,” the veteran diplomat said.
This led to the formation of the new Syrian opposition coalition which was recognised by the US and its Western allies last Wednesday. “We (the US) spend a tremendous amount of our political capital and funding to aid the civilian opposition in Syria.”
The American diplomat highlighted the need to pay attention to the humanitarian crisis emerging out of the Syrian civil war. “We dedicate a lot of funding to the UN agencies that are managing the refugees outside Syria, mostly in Turkey and Jordan, but also in Iraq and Lebanon. In addition, the US is actively providing funding for the millions of internally-displaced persons inside Syria. So a lot of our funding goes inside Syria to help with their humanitarian needs.”
“The Friends of Syria ministerial conference in Marrakesh has announced $14mn aid for housing and tents and winter clothes and boots that are urgently needed by the internally-displaced refugees in Syria,” she added.
Consensus crucial in Egypt
Jones also touched briefly on the situation in neighbouring Egypt, which voted in the first round of a divisive referendum on a new constitution on Saturday. “We feel that it is important for President [Mohammed] Morsi to reach out and build consensus about the future of Egypt,” she said
“The one big element of political leadership is building consensus. That is true in Egypt and that is true everywhere else including in the US. The citizens expect their leaders to find ways to bridge the gaps and differences and to bring people together for a conversation that results in some agreement on what the future of the country should be,” she elaborated.
When asked whether the US be willing to work with the Islamist governments in the Arab Spring nations such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, Jones said, “Here’s the US position. The US works with the leaders and government who have been elected by the citizens in a free and fair election.
Jones left for London on Sunday for meetings with European allies and Libyan officials “to talk about how the international community can support Libya in its efforts to improve its security and legal sectors.”