WASHINGTON — The United States is poised to significantly expand its non-lethal military aid to the Syrian opposition as European nations weigh easing an arms embargo to potentially supply the rebels with arms and increase pressure on President Bashar Assad to step down.
The European Union arms embargo expires at the end of May and might be allowed to expire or be modified to only block weapons that are headed to Assad’s government.
If that happens, it will amount to a new threat to give weapons to the rebels, and test whether the Syrian president reacts to the increased pressure — or if stronger international intervention might be tried.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected today to announce plans to give opposition forces up to $130 million in defensive military supplies — possibly including body armor, armored vehicles, night vision goggles and advanced communications equipment. U.S. officials said exactly what is given, and how much it will cost, will be determined at a Saturday meeting Kerry will attend in Istanbul, Turkey, of the Syrian opposition leadership and their main international allies.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to preview Kerry’s announcement publicly.
On Thursday, Kerry said the conference aims to get the opposition and all prospective donors “on the same page” with how Syria will be governed if and when President Bashar Assad leaves power or is toppled.
“The hope is that that will then create a confidence level about who is getting what kind of aid from whom,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.