Syria: Plan to arm rebels "very dangerous"

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem Getty

DAMASCUS, Syria Syria's foreign minister on Monday called the decision by the U.S. and other Western countries to bolster support for rebel groups "very dangerous," and said it would prolong the violence and killing in the country.

Walid al-Moallem said sending weapons to the opposition would hinder efforts to bring both sides to the table in a planned peace conference in Geneva.

Moallem confirmed that the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad would take part in the peace conference, tentatively slated for July.

"We are going to Geneva not in order to hand over the authority to the other side," said Moallem. "If they have such an illusion, I would advise them not to go. We are going to Geneva in order to find a genuine partnership and to set up a wide national government."

He said the so-called Geneva 2 conference, sparked by negotiations between Russia and the U.S., would be a "good opportunity" to try and reach a political solution to the crisis, but the foreign minister cautioned that the Assad regime would not, "accept any solution or ideas that are imposed from the outside. Dialogue is between Syrians themselves. We are going to build the future of Syria, not the outsiders."

He spoke Monday at a news conference in the capital Damascus two days after an 11-nation group that includes the U.S. met in the Qatari capital of Doha and agreed to step up military and other assistance to the Syrian rebels.

"We are not scared," al-Moallem said of the decision.

In Doha, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met 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 was 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.

CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reported from Doha that the Obama administration is now trying to direct the 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 the U.S. has been attempting to screen.

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

In his remarks Monday, Mouallem claimed that, in spite of any efforts to control the flow of weapons into Syria, any arms provided to rebel groups would likely end up in the hands of Islamic militants.

He referred to the al Qaeda-linked militant group Jabhat al-Nusra -- which the United States government has labeled a terrorist group -- calling the organization "the leading force in the opposition on the ground."

"This means that they will arm al-Nusra eventually," said Mouallem about the plans by the West.

CBS News has witnessed first-hand the disorganization of the rebel factions on the ground, and in spite of significant efforts to bolster and organize the moderate forces led by Gen. Idris, it remains unclear how much command and control his sub-commanders have on the battle field.

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