US opens ‘diplomatic mission’ for Syrian opposition group SNC

syrian oppositionThe US has given approval for the Syrian opposition to open a formal diplomatic mission in Washington, on the first day of a visit to the American capital by the so-called Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ahmad Jarba.

The move came as an anticipated deal to see militants exit the Old City of Homs was pushed back by another day due to logistical details, according to the governor of the province, the Daily Star reported.

The steps announced by the State Department to upgrade the status of the coalition, which had been represented by an informal liaison office, and increase nonlethal assistance to the opposition by $27 million.

This boosts total US assistance to $287 million since the conflict began three years ago. The Obama administration had recognized the opposition group in December 2012.

The office won’t be an embassy but will now be considered a “foreign mission” under US law. “This is an important step in the path toward a new Syria, its recognition on the international stage, and its relations with Syrian nationals in the US,” Jarba said, as his delegation began arriving in Washington on Monday.

Jarba is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday.

The upgrade is largely symbolic, but US officials said it has been a key request of the opposition for some time as they believe it will give them greater presence and credibility with officials in Washington and among Syrian expatriates in the United States.

The State Department suspended the operations of the Syrian Embassy in Washington in March.

In addition to the new $27 million in aid to the opposition council, the department also said it would step up deliveries of nonlethal assistance to moderate commanders in the terrorist Free Syrian Army. Details of that aid were not immediately clear, but previous aid shipments to opposition military commanders have included communications and computer gear, vehicles and defensive gear, such as body armor.

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