Colleville-sur-Mer, France (CNN) – Defending President Barack Obama’s foreign policy as one of global leadership – rather than the passive stance his critics portray – National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Friday the United States was taking important steps in Syria by offering both "lethal and non-lethal" aid to the moderate opposition fighting a bloody civil war.
“The United States has been the single largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, providing over 1.7 billion dollars,” she said in an interview with CNN. “That's why the United States has ramped up its support for the moderate vetted opposition, providing lethal and nonlethal support where we can to support both the civilian opposition and the military opposition.”
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The Obama administration has said it wants to work with Congress on ramping up support for Syria’s opposition forces, which have been battling President Bashar al Assad for three years. The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in nonlethal aid and humanitarian assistance since the war broke out in 2011.
In a speech last week at West Point, Obama said he wanted to increase support to rebels “who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.”
But there are concerns that some forces fighting against Assad could be aligned with terrorist groups, including the jihadist Al Nusra Front. Those concerns have thus far prevented any public announcements of lethal aid to Syrian rebels.
Following Obama’s speech at West Point, officials said they were working with Congress to approve the increased support. They said lawmakers’ approval might be required under the War Powers Act.
Rice said on Friday the United States was working with Syria’s neighbors to help alleviate the dire situation of refugees, as well as working to confront an increasing threat that Syria’s becoming a hotbed for terrorists.
“We're working on the counterterrorism challenge because as we have seen there are increasingly emanating from Syria the threat of terrorism to the neighbors and beyond,” she said.
“Our efforts are increasing and why we'll remain very much engaged, both in trying to support the Syrian people and trying to support the Syrian opposition,” she continued.
Critics have cited Obama’s record in Syria as evidence of a failed foreign policy, saying his decision to forgo air strikes after Assad deployed chemical weapons displayed weakness to rivals.
Rice countered those claims by pointing to still-strong alliances between the U.S. and partner nations.
“I don't think the criticism has been fair,” she said. “I think the fact of the matter is we're living in complex times, there are many different challenges that the United States and the world faces. But our leadership is unmatched. Our role is indispensable.”