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The Obama administration gave approval Monday for the ‘Syrian opposition’ to open a formal diplomatic mission in the United States and said it would increase ‘non-lethal’ assistance to the opposition by $27 million ($287 million since the conflict began three years ago).
The steps announced by the State Department give the ‘Syrian Opposition’ Council’s offices in Washington and New York formal diplomatic status and boost total U.S. assistance to the ‘opposition’ to $287 million since the conflict began three years ago. The moves come at a critical time in the conflict as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has made recent battlefield gains and is planning presidential elections in June.
The administration has recognized the ‘opposition council’ as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in December 2012, but its U.S. offices had been recognized only as informal liaison bureaus until Monday.
The Washington office won’t be considered an embassy, or the New York office a consulate, but both are now be considered “foreign diplomatic missions” under U.S. law.
The department suspended the operations of the real Syrian Embassy, which represented the al-Assad government, in Washington in March 2014.
The upgrade and formal diplomatic status of the ‘Syrian Opposition’ Council’s offices in Washington and New York, is largely symbolic, but U.S. officials said it has been a key request of the ‘opposition’ as they believe it will give them greater ‘presence and credibility’ with officials in Washington and among Syrian expatriates in the United States.
“It’s a reflection of our partnership with the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
Legally, it allows the administration to assist the offices with banking and security services.
The announcements came ahead of meetings this week in Washington between senior U.S. officials and Ahmad al-Jarba, the visiting president of the opposition council.
Jarba is set to meet Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday.
In addition to the new $27 million in aid to the opposition council, the department also said it would step up deliveries of non-lethal assistance to moderate commanders in the Free Syrian Army.