US denies okaying delivery of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria militants

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A State Department official has denied a newspaper report claiming that the White House had “lifted its veto” on deliveries of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, or MANPADS, to militants trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“We have not changed our position on providing MANPADS to the Syrian opposition,” the official, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

“We have made very clear publicly our concerns about this particular system because it has a proliferation risk that does not serve our interest.”

The official was responding to an article in Al-Hayat, published Tuesday, that cited multiple sources as saying President Barack Obama had made the decision as part of a strategy of “gradual escalation” against Damascus, in a bid to pressure the Assad to negotiate a political solution to the 3-year-old war.

It said the decision was reached in the wake of a visit by Ahmad Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, to Washington and Paris, where he repeatedly voiced his group’s demand for weapons to neutralize the army’s air power.

The report said the Western governments’ concerns over measures to keep the weapons out of the hands of “extremists” were also discussed as part of the supposed policy shift.

Also Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama is “close to authorizing a mission led by the US military” to train rebel factions, which would expand Washington’s role in the conflict.

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