Iran is increasing its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort to ensure its Shiite ally stays in power, a U.S. State Department official said today.
Iran has supplied the Syrian regime with military equipment and is supporting Hezbollah troops who are increasingly involved in heavy front-line fighting, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Syria is also getting help from Russia, which continues to fill existing arms contracts with Syria and lets it skirt international financial sanctions by allowing the regime and individuals to use Russian banks, the official said.
The U.S. and other backers of the Syrian rebels haven’t reached a consensus on what to do. The Syrian political opposition has been slow to unite, electing new leadership last week. That has delayed efforts to hold talks between rebels and the regime on a political transition.
The U.S. also has pushed allies to coordinate the supply of military equipment and weapons to ensure it goes to moderate factions. Coordination in sending military supplies to opposition General Salim Idris, head of the Supreme Military Command, has improved, the State Department official said.
By strengthening the Supreme Military Command, the U.S. and allies hope to exert greater pressure on the regime and eventually push it to the bargaining table to find a negotiated solution, the official said.
Opposition figures have alleged to the U.S. that Russia is sending arms to Assad’s regime beyond existing contracts it committed to fill, the official said.
Russian banks continue to work with the Syrian regime, and Syrian individuals and Russian authorities have declined to impose any restrictions on their banks doing business with Syria, the official said.
Money from some individual supporters in Gulf nations still flows toward the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group that has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States, the official said.
Iran’s policies have confirmed the U.S.’s position that Iran shouldn’t be included in a peace conference to negotiate a political transition between the Syrian government and rebels.
Iran, a Shiite Muslim nation, sees Assad -- a member of the minority Alawite sect that is a Shiite offshoot -- as an ally against the Sunni Muslim countries that surround it.
Iraq’s lack of help in inspecting Syrian-bound Iranian planes suspected of carrying weapons and personnel continues to be a problem, the official said.