ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland —
U.S. officials say Obama’s decision to send the rebels weapons and ammunition for the first time was an attempt to increase their military strength in order to bolster their political bargaining power. But the American inventory for the rebels is not yet expected to include the high-powered weaponry sought by the opposition, raising questions about whether the deepening U.S. involvement will be effective in changing the situation on the ground.
Obama’s decision to arm the rebels coincided with the White House’s announcement last week that it had definitive evidence of multiple instances of chemical weapons use by Assad’s regime against the opposition. Britain and France have also accused Assad of using the deadly agent sarin, while Russia has publicly questioned the credibility of chemical weapons evidence.
“It’s necessary to refrain from unproven claims by either party,” Putin adviser Alexei Kvasov told reporters at the summit Monday. “We have no evidence proving it.”
Moscow’s continued support for Assad is based in part on Russia’s deep economic and military ties with his regime. Last month, Russia acknowledged it has agreed to sell Syria advanced S-300 air-defense missiles, which are considered to be the cutting edge in aircraft interception technology.
The Russian president’s divisions with Western leaders on Syria were also on display in his separate meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande. Both European leaders have previously indicated a willingness to arm vetted Syrian rebels and successfully pushed for the European Union to allow an arms embargo preventing the flow of weapons to expire.
Still, neither country is yet to join Obama in arming the opposition. Following the U.S. decision, there has been growing public concern in both countries over the wisdom of delivering weapons to a country where groups affiliated with al-Qaida are supporting elements of the rebellion.