Russia is shipping attack helicopters to Syria’s Assad regime that is fighting to defeat a 15-monthlong uprising, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
“We are concerned by the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” Clinton said at a conference today in Washington.
Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby said he couldn’t confirm Clinton’s information, although “we know that they are using helicopter gunships now to attack their own people.” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to disclose the source of Clinton’s information or to elaborate on it.
In Syria, there are signs that government forces have been massing in the past day or two around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and financial center, Clinton said.
“That could very well be a red line for the Turks in terms of their strategic and national interests,” she said. “We are watching this very carefully.”
Clinton said the U.S. supports the efforts by United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to form a group of nations that includes Russia to develop a “road map for political transition” in Syria.
While Russia has advocated including Iran in talks about a Syrian transition, Clinton said that would be a “grave error” because Iran has trained and supported both Syrian government forces and militias blamed for civilian massacres.
Clinton said the U.S. has a time line to see if Annan can be successful in efforts to quell the violence and initiate a shift that removes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
The “outer limit” is mid-July, when the UN Security Council is to consider whether to extend the observer force, she said. Without “discernible” progress, she said, “it will be very difficult to extend a mission that is increasingly dangerous for the observers on the ground.”
Speaking at the same event, Israeli President Shimon Peres said the Arab League should take the lead on resolving the Syrian crisis.