Questions about weaponry being provided to Assad’s government came into focus last week when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of providing attack helicopters to Assad. Russia acknowledged on Thursday it was trying to send repaired combat helicopters to Syria aboard a vessel that apparently turned back after its insurance coverage was withdrawn.
Panetta said the U.S. hope was that “not only Russia, but other countries, don’t provide the kind of weapons and arms that result in killing more Syrians.”
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby said Panetta was referring to the deaths of Syrian civilians by the Assad government and added he was not criticizing those countries that chose to arm the Syrian opposition.
On other Middle East crises, Panetta in the interview:
* Said Egypt’s military leaders still appeared broadly committed to a transition to civilian rule, but acknowledged his concern about new limitations on presidential powers that opponents equate with a coup.
“At least from the conversations I’ve had with them, I’ve gotten the impression that they want to continue to make this transition work,” said Panetta, who spoke by phone last week with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.
Panetta said he was more troubled by the SCAF’s restrictions on presidential powers than by the decision of Egypt’s Supreme Court last week to dissolve the newly elected parliament.
“You have to respect the ruling of the court. So I understand that,” he said. “The bigger concern is the announcement with regards to restricting powers.”