WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has formally designated a rebel group fighting in Syria as a terrorist organization in an effort to marginalize the al-Qaida affiliate and reduce its chances of gaining power should the Syrian government fall.
Blacklisting al-Nusra Front is one of several diplomatic moves planned by the administration to try to maneuver moderate opposition groups into position to shape a pro-Western government if President Bashar Assad is ousted.
U.S diplomats are to take another step toward that end today at a meeting in Morocco, where the United States is expected to formally recognize a recently formed coalition of rebel groups — the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces — as Syria's legitimate government-in-waiting.
"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," President Barack Obama told ABC News on Tuesday.
U.S. officials acknowledge, however, that the umbrella group has limited influence with the dozens of insurgent groups that have emerged in Syria's nearly 21-month-old civil war.
U.S. officials said they hoped that blacklisting al-Nusra Front would persuade other opposition militias in Syria to steer clear of it and prompt Mideast allies that may be arming its fighters to stop.
But some Syrian opposition leaders denied that al-Nusra Front is connected to al-Qaida.
Many militias respect al-Nusra Front's fighting ability and have gained access to captured weapons by collaborating with the group. At least 29 opposition groups have called for demonstrations Friday to show their support for al-Nusra Front.