Russia's decision to supply the Syrian regime with the advanced missiles poses more than simply a military threat, the top U.S. military officer said Friday.
"It's at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering," says Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It's ill-timed and very unfortunate."
The Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad will receive P-800 Oniks "Yakhont" anti-ship missiles with advanced radar capabilities. This comes at a time when the U.S. hopes Russia will draw down its historic support for the Assad regime, and back Western efforts to bring both sides of the two-year-old civil war to the negotiating table.
"What I'm really worried about is Assad will decide that since he's got these systems, he's somehow safer, and more prone to miscalculation," Dempsey told reporters at a briefing on Friday with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The U.S. keeps every option open in responding to Syria, Hagel added, moments after the U.N. announced that the refugee count among Syria now exceeds 1.5 million. He said it's important to leave every national security option on the table – including military force – "to assure that Syria doesn't disintegrate and the Middle East erupt into a regional war."
Dempsey says "we have options to deal with" the weapons the regime has within its control, including chemical weapons, long-range rockets and missiles and high-tech air defenses.
"We do not have options in any way to prevent the delivery of them," he told reporters. When asked for clarification, he said, "we do not have options to prevent the delivery of any military sales to the Syrians."
The head of the U.N. said the proposed meeting in early June in Geneva should happen "as soon as possible."
"The crisis in Syria is first and foremost on our minds," said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a Friday written statement. "I am deeply concerned about the ongoing violence and the terrible impact on millions of civilians."