Baird accepts U.S. arming rebels in Syria, heads to Jordan
Fan-Yee Suen, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, June 16, 2013 9:04AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 16, 2013 1:09PM EDT
The same day Canadians heard Foreign Minister John Baird explain the White House pledge to provide weapons to rebels in Syria, he is headed to Jordan to discuss ways to help that country cope with the massive influx of Syrian refugees who are fleeing there.
Baird and his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judah are expected to discuss how Canada can assist Jordan in dealing with the flood of Syrian refugees.
"I am deeply concerned about the situation in Syria and its effects on the broader region," Baird said in a statement announcing his trip. "In recent days and weeks, the Syrian conflict has spilled over into neighbouring countries, with sometimes deadly consequences."
Late last year, the United Nations said that nearly 4 million Syrians need aid – a figure that has now ballooned to nearly 7 million. Meanwhile, the flood of refugees in neighbouring countries Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt has swelled to more than 1.5 million.
Baird's visit comes after U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration announced last week that it will give Syrian rebels military aid, in light of evidence it said proves President Assad has used chemical weapons during the two-year conflict in Syria.
In an interview broadcast on CTV's Question Period Sunday, Baird didn't voice any opposition to the U.S. position.
"What the United States wants to do is ensure there's a greater level playing field so we can get both the parties back to the negotiating table in Geneva," Baird said.
Baird's comments come a month after he said Canada is opposed to funding a military campaign against the Syrian regime due to a growing number of "radical extremists" infiltrating opposition rebel forces.
"Canada is one of the only Western countries who hasn't recognized the Syrian opposition and this is one of the reasons why: It's no longer just a few hundred al Qaeda affiliated people. It's a substantial number of radical extremists that have come from all over the world," he said in an interview in May.
Asked if he was concerned about those radical groups being funded, Baird said he believes the U.S. will be "very selective" with whom they engage in order to reach a political solution.
The U.S. decision to begin arming rebels marks a deepening American involvement in the ongoing two-year conflict which has killed at least 93,000 people, according to a United Nations report released on Thursday.
It isn't yet clear how the U.S. will move forward with their plan to arm Syrian rebels. Officials have said the Obama administration could provide rebel fighters with a range of weapons, including small arms and assault rifles.
On Friday, Obama held an hour-long video conference alongside four G8 leaders attending the summit meeting in Northern Ireland. It's expected that Obama will urge Russian President Vladmir Putin to slacken his country's blocking of proposed UN sanctions against the Syrian regime.
Russia's foreign minister on Saturday said that the proof put forward by the U.S. that Assad has used chemical weapons doesn't meet the requirements set out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The OPCW is an independent body which is charged with implementing the international Chemical Weapons Convention.
On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he is convinced that Assad has been using chemical weapons, adding his voice to a growing number of international leaders condemning the Syrian leader.
"We've got reports from the Americans, from the British and from the French – three of our closest allies," Baird said. "When President Obama comes to these conclusions, he's a friend and an ally and we trust him."
Baird added that they have accepted the U.S. offer to provide them with a full briefing on the evidence they have on Syria's chemical weapon use.