President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the Syrian opposition was now “the legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, in the most significant US intervention yet in the brutal civil war.
“We have made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” Obama told ABC News in an interview.
France last month became the first Western nation to formally recognize the Syrian National Coalition group as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, as it fights beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad.
Britain, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council followed suit, but the coalition did not win immediate universal backing because of doubts about whether it is genuinely representative of all sectors of Syrian society.
Earlier, Washington blacklisted an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel group in Syria, warning extremists could play no role in building the nation’s future as the US readied to recognize the new Syrian alliance.
“There is a small element of those that oppose the Assad regime, that in fact are affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq and we have designated them, Al-Nusra, as a terrorist organization,” Obama said in the interview.
Though a minority, Al-Nusra has been one of the most effective rebel groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, raising concerns that hardline extremists are hijacking the 21-month-old revolt.
Senior officials however said that despite the move on recognizing the opposition, Washington sticks by its policy of not directly arming the rebels.