(CNN) – President Barack Obama on Tuesday recognized the leading Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the country’s people, marking a “big step” in U.S. engagement with the nearly two-year-old crisis.
“We’ve made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime,” Obama told ABC’s Barbara Walters.
“So we will provide them recognition and obviously with thatrecognition comes responsibilities on the part of that coalition,” he said. “It is a big step.”
The move will be a major psychological boost for the rebels, but it doesn’t mean Washington will be arming them anytime soon.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was supposed to attend the Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco along with more than 100 delegations from the United States, the European Union, Arab nations and representatives of the Syrian opposition, canceled her trip due to a stomach flu that hit her and a number of her staff.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will attend in Clinton’s place.
“So we will provide them recognition and obviously with that recognition comes responsibilities on the part of that coalition,” he said. “It is a big step.”
The United States joins Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council in recognizing the opposition.
Vote on draft Constitution Saturday.