Russian Ship Carting Helicopters To Syria Turns Back

A Russian ship carrying attack helicopters to Syria has turned back to Russia. The ship's insurer lifted its coverage when it learned it was carrying arms. The Pentagon says supplying Syria with arms that could be used against civilians would be "intolerable."

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A ship carrying Russian military helicopters to Syria has turned around. The U.S. had criticized the shipment, fearing the aircraft could be used against civilians in Syria, but that's not the reason it stopped. The real reason, as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, is that it lost its insurance coverage.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: The ship is a private vessel and it was returning helicopters to Syria after they underwent maintenance in Russia, but it reversed course when the ship's insurance company said its coverage would no longer apply if arms were onboard.

Today, Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby reiterated the U.S. position that any arm shipments must halt.

CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY: Any external support given to the Assad regime of a military lethal nature that could allow them to harm their own people is intolerable and unacceptable.

ABRAMSON: But Kirby did not say the U.S. would take any steps to block such shipments in the future. Kirby also said that three additional ships are preparing to help reinforce the Russian naval installation at the Syrian port of Tartus. He said the U.S. has no problem with that mission if it is, in fact, directed at protecting Russian personnel.

KIRBY: Russian citizens have been threatened there in Syria. Their stated intention is that this is for force protection reasons of their own.

ABRAMSON: The U.S. has rejected calls for any military action against Syria and continues to support a diplomatic approach to the crisis. Meanwhile, Russia continues to block United Nations efforts to impose tough sanctions on Syria.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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