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Kerry: U.S. not planning to arm Syrian rebels 'at the moment'

From Jill Dougherty, CNN
updated 12:03 PM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. will stick to non-lethal support in Syrian conflict, secretary of state says
  • NEW: Didn't take job to be a yes man, John Kerry says
  • International efforts are having an impact on the Syrian conflict, Kerry says
  • Kerry also talks about Iran, North Korea in an interview with CNN

Doha, Qatar (CNN) -- Don't look for the United States to send weapons to Syrian rebels any time soon, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday in a CNN interview on the last full day of his first international trip as the nation's top diplomat.

Instead, President Barack Obama's administration will continue to provide non-lethal aid while other countries arm the rebels fighting to defeat forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the two-year conflict that has claimed nearly 70,000 lives and left many areas of Syria in ruins.

"The president always has options and always has the right to adjust a policy as he goes forward," Kerry said. "At the moment, this is the calibration the president believes is correct to try to give the opportunity for a diplomatic solution."

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"But the president has made it clear, as has every other country at the table, that we will not allow President Assad to slaughter his people and to continue to rain Scuds on innocent women and children and to literally destroy his country in the effort simply to hold onto power," Kerry said.

John Kerry works to assure Syrian rebels
Kerry's first day as secretary of state

Last week, after a meeting with Syrian opposition leaders in Rome, Kerry announced $60 million in aid to the Syrian National Council to help administer rebel-held territories and an unspecified amount of food and medical aid to rebel fighters. That's on top of $50 million in similar aid previously pledged by the United States and $385 million in humanitarian aid for Syrians displaced by the fighting.

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Kerry said he believes increasing international pressure on the Syrian regime was having an impact.

"You have to look at this holistically, and in the whole it is having a major impact," he said. "Now, in the next weeks and months our hope is that this ratcheting up can avoid the level of killing and provide a window of opportunity for President Assad and the Russians and Iranians and others to get a negotiation that actually saves lives and provides a transitional government."

On other issues:

Iran: Kerry said Obama continues to prefer a diplomatic solution to concerns over the Middle Eastern country's nuclear weapons. But he said Iran should be willing to prove to the world that its nuclear program is peaceful.

"There are a lot of other countries that have peaceful programs and prove it to the world. This should not be complicated," he said.

North Korea: Kerry said former basketball player Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea wouldn't do anything to resolve the tension between Pyongyang and much of the rest of the world.

"I have great respect for Dennis Rodman as a basketball player. As a diplomat, he was a great basketball player," Kerry quipped.

Kerry said Pyongyang continues to make "belligerent and reckless moves that threaten the region, their neighbors and now, directly, the United States of America."

"It's very easy for Kim Jong Un to prove his good intent here also. Just don't fire the next missile. Don't have the next test. Just say you're ready to talk."

Kerry: Diplomacy is cheaper than no diplomacy

His appointment as secretary of state: Kerry said he didn't accept the job to be a "yes person," and doesn't think Obama wants him to be, despite Washington chatter that the second-term president is assembling a team that largely mirrors his own views. "I don't think the president appreciates just 'yes' people," Kerry said. "I think he is a man who has a very highly developed intellect and looks for answers to tough issues in a very inquisitive, Socratic way, and he looks for every point of view he can, and then he makes the tough decisions. So my job is to tell him the truth."

Read more news on CNN.com

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