Opposition turnaround on boycotting Friends of Syria conference
BEIRUT, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following the Syrian government’s offer for peace talks with the rebels without preconditions on Monday, and an international pledge “to alleviate the suffering” of the Syrian people, the Syrian opposition has agreed to attend an international summit in Rome later this week. This represents a turnaround after the Syrian National Council had pledged to boycott the Friends of Syria conference to protest against “international silence” over the slaughter of Syrians.
After a meeting on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, and US Secretary of State John Kerry jointly called on Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Al-Khatib to attend the Rome summit on Thursday.
Following this, Al-Khatib announced that he would be attending the summit. In an official statement, Al-Khatib said, “After discussions with the coalition leaders and various calls, the coalition leadership has decided to stop the suspension of the visit to the Friends of Syria conference in Rome.” The statement asserted that the talks would be “used as a practical way to reassess relations between the Syrian opposition and international parties.”
Speaking in London, Kerry said he understood that the Syrians wanted concrete results from the summit. He said, “We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming.” He added, “We are not going to let the Syrian opposition not have its ability to have its voice properly heard in this process.”
The British Foreign Secretary also urged the Syrian opposition to remain involved in international talks, pledging to boost support. He stressed that “an appalling injustice is being done to the people of Syria, which the world cannot ignore.”
Hague added, “That is why in the United Kingdom we believe we must significantly increase our support for the Syrian opposition, on top of our large contributions to the humanitarian relief effort, and we are preparing to do just that.” He pledged that “in the face of such murder and threat of instability, our policy cannot remain static as the weeks go by, and it is an important opportunity in Rome on Thursday to discuss this with our allies and partners.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem said that his government was prepared to hold talks with the Syrian opposition without imposing any preconditions, such as the rebels laying down arms. He said, “We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those [who] are carrying arms.” He added, “We believe that reforms will not come through bloodshed but only through dialogue.”
Following this, Al-Khatib responded by informing reporters in Cairo, “We have not been in contact yet, and we are waiting for communication with them.” For their part, rebel commanders have said they are not prepared to hold talks while the regime forces continue to bombard rebel-held civilian areas.
John Kerry also voiced skepticism about the regime’s offer of talks in light of the recent use of Scud missiles targeting Aleppo. He said, “It seems to me that it’s pretty hard to understand how, when you see the Scuds falling on the innocent people of Aleppo, it is possible to take their notion that they are ready to have a dialogue very seriously.”
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least twenty-six rebel fighters, forty soldiers, and five pro-government militiamen had been killed in clashes around Aleppo over the past two days. The activist group claimed that the Syrian rebels and regime forces have been shelling each other, while the government has launched repeated airstrikes.
Kerry’s Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, criticized “extremists” in the Syrian opposition, who he claimed were blocking the start of dialogue. Speaking earlier today, the Russian foreign minister told reporters that “it seems that extremists who bet on an armed solution to the Syrian problem have prevailed in the ranks of the opposition at this time, including the so-called [Syrian] National Coalition, blocking all initiatives that could lead to the start of dialogue.” Kerry is scheduled to meet Lavrov today to discuss the possibility of dialogue between the Syrian rebels and the Assad government.