Obama not ready to recognize, arm Syrian rebels

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By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he's encouraged that the Syrian opposition has formed a new, more representative leadership council, but the U.S., unlike some other countries, isn't ready to recognize the group as a "government in exile" or to arm it.

Obama told a White House news conference that his administration had been consulting intensively with foes of Syrian President Bashar Assad to broader their base, a step they took over the weekend a conference in Qatar.

"I am encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they have had in the past," Obama told reporters.

"We consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people," Obama said. "We're not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile. But we do think that it is a broad-based representative group."

France on Tuesday became the first Western nation to recognize the new opposition group as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Obama said the U.S. needed more time and wanted to make sure that the group "is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria." He also said the U.S. isn't considering sending weapons to the opposition because of concerns the arms might fall into the hands of extremists.

"We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition and one of the things that we have to be on guard about, particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures, is that we are not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks that would do Americans harms, or do Israeli harm or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security," he said.

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