Kerry travels to Mid East to organize Syria assistance

DOHA, Qatar Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Doha Saturday with the goal of trying to coordinate the delivery of weapons and assistance to moderate Syrian rebels.

Kerry met with his counterparts from European and Arab countries - the so-called London 11 - who are providing various forms of lethal and non-lethal aid to the opposition. It is the first meeting since the decision last week by the White House to publicly endorse an expansion of the "scope and scale" of military aid to the rebels.

The U.S. is now in the role of trying to direct assistance into the hands of moderate rebels and away from those with ties to extremist groups. The secretary urged countries to funnel all assistance through the Supreme Military Council (SMC), a group of rebel fighters who have been vetted by the U.S.

A senior State Department official told reporters traveling with the secretary that the U.S. will be "very concrete" about delivering every kind of assistance solely to the SMC and its leader, Gen. Salim Idris.

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have long been providing weapons to fighters, many of whom are effective but who also have extremist links. The rebel commander wasn't expected to attend the Doha meeting but has submitted multiple, specific requests for the types of heavy anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that he needs to fight Bashar Assad's army.

The U.S. has remained unspecific about the type of military assistance and intelligence that it is believed to be providing via covert channels. However, it is seeking a direct role in the arming process that is being done by other governments.

Officially, the type of battlefield aid being provided remains strictly non-lethal and has consisted of medical kits and ready-to-eat meals. A large portion of the $250 million pledged by the U.S. to provide military support and training for the opposition has not yet been delivered or authorized by Congress.

Kerry spent two days on Capitol Hill this past week delivering closed-door briefings to members in part to explain the dire situation on the ground and why the Obama administration believes that aiding the rebels is in the U.S. national interest.

A senior State Department official said that the U.S. is also "pressing very hard" on the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the 4.25 million refugees and displaced people. The U.S. is the largest donor and has already pledged more than $815 million in humanitarian support.

Many of the past pledges of financial support from other countries - many of them oil-rich Gulf states - have not been delivered. The U.N. is trying to raise its largest appeal ever - $4.5 billion - to help the more than 2 million refugees and displaced persons inside of Syria.

Doha is just the first stop in a 13-day trip by Kerry in which his prime focus will be the Syrian conflict. A senior U.S. diplomat said that Kerry will use brief stop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to discuss shared concerns about the intervention of foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah who are supporting the Assad-regime.

Kerry will then travel on to Jordan, a U.S. ally which has become increasingly concerned about its own stability given the burden of hundreds of thousands of Syrians flowing across its border and into its refugee camps. On Friday, the White House announced that it is deploying 700 soldiers at the request of Jordan.

Kerry's trip will also include stops in Kuwait, India and Brunei.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Principally assigned to the State Department, Margaret Brennan also serves as a CBS News general assignment correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

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