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U.S. slams Russian anti-ship missiles going to Syria

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, May 17, 2013, to discuss sexual assaults in the military and the promotion of Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti to command U.S. troops in South Korea, among other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, May 17, 2013, to discuss sexual assaults in the military and the promotion of Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti to command U.S. troops in South Korea, among other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Obama administration denounced Russia yesterday for providing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime
with anti-ship missiles, saying the weapons would only worsen a war that Washington
and Moscow have been
promising to work together on stopping.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized what he called an “unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering.” He spoke at a news conference after the New York Times reported that Russia recently delivered an advanced version of Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria.

“It’s ill-timed and very unfortunate,” Dempsey said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also urged Russia to rethink its military aid, saying that the United States and Russia both wanted to stabilize Syria after more than two years of civil war but that the Kremlin’s military support makes the situation even more dangerous.

“What we don’t want to see happen, the Russians don’t want to see happen, is for Syria to erupt to the point where we may well find a regional war in the Middle East,” Hagel said.

“So we continue to work with the Russians on their interests and everything we can do to convince the powers that are involved in the region to be careful with escalation of military options and equipment,” he said, adding that the U.S. was planning for every military contingency.

Dempsey’s comments, in particular, seemed to contradict that of the State Department, where spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier yesterday that the U.S. was aware of no “new shipments” of the weapons.

For the Obama administration, the anti-ship missiles are the second such worrying report in as many weeks at a time when Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say they are coordinating closely to try to get Syria’s government and rebels into the start of a peace negotiation. They are hoping the talks begin next month in Geneva.

Almost immediately after last week’s announcement by Kerry and Lavrov of a new peace push, Israeli officials warned that Moscow was preparing to give Assad state-of-the-art ground-to-air missile systems in the coming months.

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