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U.S. welcomes Syria opposition, pledges more aid

By David Brunnstrom

PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday called the formation of a new opposition coalition in Syria an important step that would help Washington better target its help, but she stopped sort of offering full recognition or arms.

France earlier became the first European power to recognize Syria's new opposition coalition as the sole representative of its people and said on Tuesday it would look into arming rebels against President Bashar al-Assad once they form a government.

Six Gulf Arab states recognized the coalition on Monday but the United States wants to see the new opposition demonstrate it can influence events on the ground in Syria.

"We have long called for this kind of organization. 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."

Twenty months into their bloody uprising, fragmented Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Qatar on Sunday to form a coalition led by Damascus preacher Mouaz Alkhatib, who appealed for international recognition.

Clinton announced an extra $30 million in aid to those affected by the war in Syria after talks in Perth involving her Australian counterpart, Bob Carr, and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith.

Clinton said the $30 million would help get food to hungry people inside Syria and to refugees who have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

The aid would be provided through the World Food Program, which is supplying food aid to more than one million people in Syria and nearly 400,000 refugees in neighboring countries.

The additional funds brought U.S. humanitarian assistance to those affected by the Syrian crisis to nearly $200 million, Clinton said.

The United States says while it is not providing arms to internal opponents of Assad and is limiting its aid to non-lethal humanitarian aid, it concedes that some of its allies are providing lethal assistance -- a fact that Assad's chief backer, Russia, says shows Western powers are intent on determining Syria's future.

Russia and China have blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at increasing pressure on the Assad government, leading the United States and its allies to say they could move beyond U.N. structures for their next steps.

(Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)

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