Clinton cancels Middle East trip over stomach virus the same day U.S. labels Syrian rebel group terrorists
PUBLISHED: 00:12 EST, 11 December 2012 | UPDATED: 00:13 EST, 11 December 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has pulled out of a weeklong trip to the Arab world because of a stomach virus, officials said on Monday,
Her scheduled absence comes the same day the Obama administration declared a Syrian rebel group with alleged ties to al-Qaida a terrorist organization, a labelling she was expected to formally announce during her trip.
Mrs Clinton was to travel to North Africa and the Middle East as part of a U.S. effort to enhance cooperation with moderates in the Syrian coalition fighting President Bashar Assad's regime, as well as to isolate extremists in their ranks.
Clinton’s deputy, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, will take her place in Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
'Since she’s still under the weather, we’ll be staying put this week instead of heading to North Africa and the Middle East as originally planned,' Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines, said.
On the first stop, in the Moroccan city of Marrakech on Wednesday, Burns likely will recognize Syria’s new opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, officials said.
Clinton had been expected to make the declaration, which is designed to reward anti-Assad leaders for making their movement more inclusive and facilitate greater American assistance.
Backup: Travelling in her place is Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, seen left of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika last week
Earlier on Monday, the administration took action against the rebel militia Jabhat al-Nusra, which has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings on Syrian government targets and raised fears of growing Islamic extremism among the opposition.
By branding the group a terrorist organization, the U.S. government is freezing any assets Jabhat al-Nusra holds in the United States and barring American from doing business with the group.
The action hasn’t been announced officially, but was included in the Federal Register on Monday.
In the notice, the State Department described the group as part of al-Qaida in Iraq.