The White House cautiously endorsed a new claim from Qatar’s government that Syria’s dictator has ordered the large-scale killing of perhaps 11,000 prisoners on Wednesday, but sought to minimize the impact on its diplomatic outreach to Iran.
The claim of murder is backed up by a database of gruesome photographs taken by a Syrian defector.
“We stand with the rest of the world in horror at these images… and we condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of the Assad regime,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday.
Carney declined to extend his criticism of Syria to Iran, and quickly nominated a different reporter to ask a question about a different subject: “They’re very disturbing images. Let me move around a little bit. Christie.”
Iran is the chief supporter of Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, providing money, weapons and troops to Assad for his war against a fractured alliance of rebel Muslim groups and foreign jihadis.
But Obama is trying to persuade Iran’s leaders to drop their core ideological goals, to abandon their Syrian allies and to give up their large-scale program to develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for increased trade and economic growth.
The new report was funded by the monarch of Qatar, who has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The Muslim Brotherhood wants to build an Islamic progressive theocracy throughout the Middle East and is a leading force among the Syrian rebels.
The Qatar report is based on photographs taken by a defector who had worked as a photographer for the Syrian government.
“The defector who was codenamed ‘Caesar’ by the inquiry team had, during the course of his work, smuggled out some tens of thousands of images of corpses so photographed by his colleagues and himself,” said the report.
Syria’s embattled government claimed the photographs are fakes. “The justice ministry completely denies the veracity of the report… It is a politicised report that lacks objectivity and professionalism,” according to Syria’s government-run news agency.
Carney’s refusal to link Iran to Syria reflects the administration’s efforts to minimize the extended low-scale war that Iran has waged on the United States since the Islamic theocracy seized power in 1979.
“Our best chance of seeing a decent outcome [in Syria] at this point is to work the state actors who have invested so much in keeping Assad in power—mainly the Iranians and the Russians” he told the New Yorker magazine.
“If we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion — not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon — you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare,” Obama said.
Syria’s government also defied the U.S. and other governments attending a U.N. peace conference held on Tuesday.
“This is a Syrian conflict, and it will remain as such,” Syria’s foreign minister declared to an audience that include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Mr. Kerry, nobody in the world has the right to get rid of the legitimacy of a president or a constitution or a law or anything in Syria except the Syrian people themselves,” the foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, announced.