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Inside Syria
Friends of Syria: An expensive talking shop?
With no concrete course of action agreed upon to stop the violence, Inside Syria asks just what the conference achieved.
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2012 10:29

The so-called 'Friends of Syria' met in Tunis on Friday where leaders from more than 70 countries discussed ways to stop the ongoing violence in Syria.

"I am pretty disappointed from the 'Friends of Syria'. I think the friends of the Assad regime are more effective. Russia, Hezbollah, the Iranians are providing him with all means to maintain his attack on civilian society."

- Walid Maalouf

Their focus remains a political solution - although there is a push for a civilian peacekeeping mission once the violence ends. Military intervention is an option that, for the time being at least, remains off the table.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar say that they want to provide weapons to the opposition, but other countries say they want a more peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The meeting failed to agree on any concrete course of action to end the violence, so what was achieved?

• The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, was recognised as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, seeking peaceful, democratic change. Nations will now work with the opposition to prepare for a post-Assad Syria, including possible lucrative commercial deals.

• The group discussed the reinforcement of economic and diplomatic sanctions and decided on steps nations should take to tighten the noose on the regime, including boycotting Syrian oil and imposing travel and financial sanctions on Assad and those closest to him.

• There was also an agreement to step up preparations to get humanitarian aid into cities like Homs. The group pledged to boost relief shipments and to set up supply depots along Syria's borders. But it is unclear how aid could be distributed without government approval.

• The appoint of Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, as the joint UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria was confirmed. The current UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, will start planning for the deployment of 'blue helmet' peacekeeping forces.

"The people on the ground [in Syria] would not like what happened [at the conference] at all. They wanted something tangible .... People are dying every day. What would such a conference do if it doesn't produce ... decisions that have teeth, that have some power to stop the killing?"

- Bassam Imadi

But despite the show of unity to end the violence, there were signs of divisions.

Some of the delegates - particularly Gulf states that have long-opposed Assad - pressed for an international peacekeeping force and favoured arming the rebels.

So, what can the Syrian opposition hope for?

Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, explained the opposition's position: "We are not asking the world to undertake the revolution on our behalf, be it peacefully or militarily. This is our right and our duty. We in Syria fight our own battles. What we are asking is that they support us."

For its part, Syrian state television, which mirrors the world of its president, described the Tunis conference not as 'Friends of Syria' but as 'Friends of America'. They aired most of the conference live and saw it as a neo-imperialist attempt to divide the country.

So, was the conference just an expensive talking shop? And what can be expected when the 'Friends of Syria' meet again?

Joining Inside Syria to discuss this are: Bassam Imadi, a former Syrian ambassador to Sweden and a member of the foreign relations committee in the Syrian National Council; Walid Maalouf, who served as an alternate representative of the US to the General Assembly of the United Nations; and Ammar Waqqaf, a member of the Syrian Social Club, a London-based group that supports change in Syria under the supervision of the government.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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