WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the United States is encouraged by a new Syrian opposition alliance but is not yet ready to recognise it as sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
"We're not yet prepared to recognise them as some sort of government in exile, but we do think that it is a broad-based representative group," Obama told reporters at the first news conference after his re-election.
France became the first Western power to recognise a fledgling Syrian opposition coalition fully, which said on Wednesday the body must first show its clout inside Syria.
Syria's regime unleashed tanks and warplanes on rebels on Wednesday as it slammed France for recognising an opposition bloc formed at a meeting in Qatar that it said amounted to a "declaration of war."
"The Doha meeting was a declaration of war. These people (the opposition) don't want to solve the issue peacefully through the mechanisms of the UN," Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, said.
"We read the Doha document and they reject any dialogue with the government."
Reacting to France's decision to recognise the National Coalition, he said: "Allow me to use the word, this is an immoral position. They are supporting killers, terrorists and they are encouraging the destruction of Syria."
Six Gulf Arab states recognised the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces on Monday and France followed suit the next day, unlike its European partners.
President Francois Hollande's decisive posture on Syria recalled that of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy on Libya last year, when France led calls for Nato action to protect civilians which effectively helped Libyan rebels topple Muammar Qadhafi.
The European Union bans arms sales to Syria, but Hollande said the question of arming rebels would be examined when the coalition formed a transitional government. Paris had previously ruled this out, fearing arms could reach militants.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the formation of the coalition, which supersedes the widely discredited Syrian National Council as the face of the Syrian opposition, was an important step, but did not offer it full recognition or arms.
"We have long called for this kind of organisation. We want to see that momentum maintained," Clinton told reporters in the Australian city of Perth. "As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified, democratic, pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people."
Suhair Al Atassi, a vice president of the new coalition, said that once it had proved it represents "revolutionary forces" on the ground, there would be no excuse for Western powers not to provide some form of military backing.
"The ball now is in the international community's court," she told Reuters in an interview in Dubai, blaming Western reticence to arm the rebels for the rise of extremism in Syria.
"There is no more excuse to say we are waiting to see how efficient this new body is. They used to put the opposition to the test. Now we put them to the test," she declared.