The United States has called for a major overhaul of Syria’s beleaguered opposition, saying it is time to move beyond the Syrian National Council (SNC) and bring in those who are “in the frontlines fighting and dying today”.
Signalling a more active stance by Washington in attempts to form a credible political opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said a meeting next week in Qatar would be an opportunity to bring more people to the table and broaden the coalition against him.
“This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but who, in many instances, have not been inside Syria for 20, 30, 40 years,” Clinton said during a visit to Croatia on Wednesday.
“There has to be a representation of those who are in the frontlines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.”
Clinton’s comments represented a clear break with the SNC, a largely foreign-based political group which has been among the most vocal proponents of international intervention in the Syrian conflict.
US officials have privately expressed their frustration with the SNC’s inability to come together with a coherent plan and with its lack of traction with the disparate internal groups which have waged the bloody 19-month uprising against Assad’s government.
Clinton also signalled a stronger US push to help shape the face of the political opposition, noting that with increasing sectarian tensions it was important that the next rulers of Syria are both inclusive and committed to rejecting extremism.
“There needs to be an opposition that can speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria. And we also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution,” she said.
Chance for new leadership
The meeting next week in Qatar’s capital Doha represents a chance to forge a new leadership, Clinton said.
|SNC says Clinton will have to take “some responsibility” for opposition’s shortfalls|
She said the United States had helped to “smuggle out” representatives of internal Syrian opposition groups to a meeting in New York last month to argue their case for inclusion.
“We have recommended names and organizations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure,” Clinton told a news conference.
“We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice which must be heard.”
The United States and its allies have struggled for months to craft a credible opposition coalition against Assad, saying this is a crucial step in any plan which they say must eventually see him removed from power.
But repeated attempts at opposition unity have been frustrated, while critics accuse Washington and other Western powers of not acting decisively enough to prevent further bloodshed.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has said it is not providing arms to internal opponents of Assad and is limiting its aid to non-lethal humanitarian assistance.
It concedes, however, that some of its allies are providing lethal assistance, a fact that Assad’s chief international backer Russia says shows that western powers are intent determining Syria’s political future.
Russia and China have blocked three UN Security Council resolutions aimed at increasing pressure on the Assad government.
The vetoes have led the United States and its allies to say that they would seek to move beyond UN structures to plan their next steps.
Clinton said she regretted but was not surprised by the failure of the latest attempted ceasefire in Syria, which UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi sought last Friday to stop the violence over the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
Each side blamed the other for breaking the truce.
“The Assad regime did not suspend its use of advanced weaponry against the Syrian people for even one day,” Clinton said.
“While we urge Special Envoy Brahimi to do whatever he can in Moscow and Beijing to convince them to change course and support a stronger UN action we cannot and will not wait for that,” she said.
Clinton said the United States would continue to work with its partners to increase sanctions on the Assad government and to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict.