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Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 3:15pm

Obama Recognizes Rebels As Legitimate Representatives Of Syrian People

In an interview with ABC News, President Obama Tuesday said that his administration now formally recognizes the Syrian rebels who are fighting President Bashar Assad.

"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," the president told ABC News' Barbara Walters.

Talking Points Memo posted a video of this portion of the ABC interview:

The president called the move "a big step," but with this also comes the responsibility to make sure the rebel coalition organizes themselves properly and is inclusive of all parties, including women.

Britain, France, Turkey and several Gulf Arab nations have also recognized the coalition of rebel groups as effectively being a government in exile.

This announcement comes just a day after the U.S. added one Syrian rebel group to its list of terrorist organizations. The president acknowledge those groups in the interview:

"Not everybody who's participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with. There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements."

The New York Times had this analysis of the announcement:

"Mr. Obama's statement was an acknowledgment that the opposition had made sufficient progress to merit recognition. The American hope is that the opposition, in conjunction with local councils that are being formed in Syria, could help govern areas that have been wrested from Mr. Assad's control, provide public services like law enforcement and utilities, and perhaps even channel humanitarian assistance."

ABC News will air the full interview, where the president also addressed the fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington, on Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

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