Nick Clegg is against arming the Al-Qaeda Germ Rebel Terrorists in Syria
Nick Clegg: Arming Syrian rebels is currently ‘the wrong thing to do’
The UK Government will not arm the Syrian rebels because it is “clearly” not the right thing to do at the moment, Nick Clegg has said.
By Peter Dominiczak, and Christopher Hope10:51AM BST 16 Jun 2013Comments136 Comments
The Deputy Prime Minister said he does not want Britain to “get embroiled in a military conflict”.
His comments come amid growing suggestions that David Cameron is increasingly in favour of helping to arm the Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
The Obama administration has said that it wants to step up aid for the rebels because it has “high confidence” that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons to kill an estimated 100-150 people.
America now plans to channel small arms to the rebels but has no immediate intention of seeking international agreement to impose a no-fly zone.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme Mr Clegg said: “We’ve taken no decision to provide lethal assistance so we clearly don’t think it is the right thing to do now otherwise we would have decided to do it.
“What we are doing is providing significant amounts of non-lethal assistance…that is the strategy we are pursuing at the moment.”
The Deputy Prime Minister added: “At this point we’re not provided arms. If we wanted to we would do it. We’re not doing it.”
Mr Clegg said Britain’s current contributions – items like armoured 4x4s, body armour and communications equipment – offered a “great deal of assistance” to the official opposition.
He said discussions with Mr Cameron continued on an “on-going basis”, and added: “We both understand we are trying to strike the right balance between playing a part with other allies to provide support to the opposition who we think deserve support so they can play a leading role in forging a new Syria.
“But not at the same time embroiling this country in another conflict in a way I don’t think would be acceptable to the British people.”
Mr Cameron has been warned that he could be defeated in the Commons if he tries to win a parliamentary agreement for Britain to arm the rebels.
Tory whips are understood to have told him that up to two-thirds of backbenchers oppose deeper British involvement in the conflict and that Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs are likely to vote against.
Mr Cameron told Murnaghan on Sky News that Britain wanted to help the Syrian opposition.
He said: ” I want to help the Syrian opposition to succeed and my argument is this: yes there are elements of the Syrian opposition that are deeply unsavoury, that are very dangerous, very extremist and I want nothing to do with them.
“I’d like them driven out of Syria. They’re linked to Al Qaeda. But there are elements of the Syrian opposition who want to see a free democratic pluralistic Syria that respects the rights of minorities including Christians and we should working with them.
“We are working with them and my point is this: that if we don’t work with those elements of the Syrian opposition then we can’t be surprised if the only elements of the Syrian opposition that are getting that are actually making any progress in Syria are the ones that we don’t approve of.
“So what is Britain doing today, so people at home can understand, with Americans, French, with other allies in the Gulf, we’re training, we’re assisting, we’re giving non-lethal support.
“Things like vehicles to the genuine Syrian opposition and trying to help them because after all they are trying to defend their communities against appalling attacks including, let’s be clear, chemical weapon attacks.
“And President Assad is now guilty of the most appalling crimes against his people. 90,000 people dead and some of them through the use of appalling chemical weapons.”