“It’s not a message we like,” said Najib Ghadbian, the U.S. representative of the Syrian Opposition Coalition and part of the delegation that met with Kerry.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved a measure that would prevent the administration from spending money on U.S. military operations in Syria without consulting Congress. The measure is not likely to survive opposition in the Senate, but the debate made clear that deeper military involvement is opposed by an unusual House coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.
“Those are the wrong signals to the Assad regime – that there’s no will for the U.S. to intervene,” said Ghadbian, who tried to put the best face on the opposition leadership’s failure to visit Washington, suggesting the visit came “on too short a notice to arrange meetings at the highest level.”
State Department officials lament that their policy options are “bad and worse.” They’re not keen on sending U.S. assistance to either the jihadist-infiltrated rebel forces or the notoriously fractious exiles of the political opposition, with whom frustration runs high.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition’s internal bickering and repeated failures to cobble together a cohesive interim authority has cost it credibility in the State Department, which has been reluctant to give the group any direct funding from U.S. aid pots. While publicly cheering on a recent change of coalition leadership as a step toward breaking the political impasse, American officials are privately fed up with the perpetual infighting.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday that the government still planned to live up to its pledge to increase “both the scale and the scope of our assistance to the Syrian opposition,” though she offered no specifics or timeline.
“This is a complicated situation,” Harf said. “If there were easy answers, we would have done them two years ago. There are none.”
Idriss isn’t the only one upset at the U.S. foot-dragging on the arms issue. At a meeting with U.S. officials this week at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, Saudi officials demanded to know why the U.S. was holding a new shipment of heavy weapons destined for Syrian rebel militias.
U.S. officials told the Saudis to hold on for a few weeks, according to a participant in the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions involve sensitive diplomacy. When the Saudis asked what would change in a few weeks, there was no clear answer.
Ghadbian, the opposition envoy, stressed that the opposition leaders remain open to sitting down with American partners to find “creative” ways for the U.S. to do more without full-scale military intervention. But, he added, the opposition leadership already has decided to continue the fight against Assad – “with or without the U.S.”
“We always expect more from the U.S. and U.S. administration,” Ghadbian said. “But we have to go with each country’s willingness.”
William Douglas of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.