The Syrian National Coalition—the new Syrian opposition umbrella group—recently won recognition from the more than 100 countries in the “Friends of the Syrian People” coalition, but –wary of their experience in Libya—Western countries still remain hesitant to provide arms.
Al Jazeera, last updated: December 12, 2012
Al Jazeera via Inter Press Service
More than 100 countries have recognised a new Syrian opposition coalition, opening the way for greater assistance to the forces fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, including possibly military aid.
Backing for the Syrian National Coalition, formed in Qatar in November, was given at an international conference of the “Friends of the Syrian People” in Morocco on Wednesday.
The opposition had been under intense international pressure to create a more organised and representative body to channel any aid extended by foreign countries.
While the coalition welcomed the move, the opposition said they were looking for more tangible political and financial backing and that they want members of Assad’s government to be brought to the International Criminal Court.
International recognition of the Libyan opposition gave it a huge boost in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi last year, and was later backed by Western air strikes.
Military intervention does not appear to be in the cards for Syria, where the government has the powerful backing of Russia, China and Iran.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the meeting in Marrakesh had made “extraordinary progress”.
He noted that the European Union is now renewing its weapons embargo on Syria every three months, rather than annually, to be more flexible as the situation on the ground changes.
“We want to have the ability to continue or to change our attitude on this point,” he said.
“The fact that the coalition, which is asking for the right to defend itself, is now being recognised by a hundred countries – yesterday the U.S. and first France – I think this is a very important point.”
The conference’s final statement said Assad had lost all legitimacy but stopped short of calling for him to step down, something attending ministers did say individually.
The statement also warned that any use of chemical weapons “would draw a serious response” from the international community.
“I believe that of all the meetings we have had so far for the friends of Syria, this will turn out to be the most significant,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the final news conference.
The conference members also announced new humanitarian assistance for Syrians, including $100m from Saudi Arabia and a fund to be managed by Germany and the United Arab Emirates for the reconstruction of the country after Assad falls.
Western countries have been reluctant to send arms to Syria, not the least because of their experience in Libya, where the West actively backed one side in a civil war in a country that later became awash with armed groups.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary general, said from Brussels that international recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition was a “step in the right direction of a political solution”.
“Clearly, there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria – we need a political solution,” he told Al Jazeera. “We don’t have any intention to intervene militarily.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition contradicts earlier international agreements aimed at starting a Syria dialogue that would include all sides in the conflict.
Germany’s lower house of parliament will debate whether to send patriot missiles and 400 soldiers to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Germany is considering arming the border at Turkey’s request to keep the war in Syria from spilling over.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, the hardline “pro-Israel” lobbying outfit supported by Sheldon Adelson, has vocally promoted efforts by Congress to derail U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. With a view to the next presidential election, RJC’s executive director Matthew Brooks recently attacked Hillary Clinton’s stance on Iran: “For four years Hillary Clinton proved to the world that her foreign policy judgment and skills are clearly lacking. Now, former Secretary Clinton fails to realize that after exhaustive negotiations with Iran, rewarding them with more time is a catalyst to empower and embolden the Iranian regime further.”
Michael Gerson, the conservative op-ed columnist for the Washington Post and former Bush speechwriter, has pushed for a more aggressive stance from President Obama on foreign policy, lambasting Obama’s purported “lead from behind” doctrine in a recent op-ed. “Recent history yields one interpretation,” wrote Gerson. “If the United States does not lead the global war on terrorism, the war will not be led. But still [Obama] refuses to broaden his conception of the U.S. role in the Middle East.”
Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor, has a record of promoting hawkish U.S. defense policies and has been described as having a “near-neocon position on foreign policy.” Not surprisingly, the Washington Post editorial page recently come out in support of efforts by the newly sworn in Republican Senate to impose additional sanctions on Iran. In a rebuttal to the Post editorial, one journalist stated: “[T]he editorial board ought to come out and say it if they don’t think the Iranians’ threat to back out of talks is serious—and then lay out all the attendant risks of calling their bluff.”
A controversial activist group closely connected to anti-Islamic and “pro-Israel” political factions, the Clarion Project has released numerous films and publications that attack “radical Islam” and call into question the trustworthiness of Muslims. Clarion’s latest film, Honor Diaries, purports to depict the “issues facing women in Muslim-majority societies.” The film has been denounced by Muslim organizations, with one commentator describing it as a “reminder that the age of pre-packaged, documentary-style propaganda, meant to influence behavior and opinion against ‘them’, is far from over.”
Ryan Mauro is a national security analyst with the controversial “pro-Israel” propaganda outfit the Clarion Project. Mauro has become a frequent guest on Fox News, where he pushes sensationalist stories about Muslim groups in the United States. According to Media Matters, Mauro has claimed that “Muslim patrols” are a “growing security concern for the United States,” that refugees from Somalia are “becoming ‘homegrown’ terrorists,” and that Islamist groups are creating “Muslim enclaves” in the United States. Mauro has even argued that the evidence of “Islamist Muslim Brotherhood influence at the highest ranks of the Republican Party’s apparatus is overwhelming.”
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