Syrian Opposition Split – As Russia Welcomes Call for Dialogue

Ziad Haidar Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon) – 8.2.2013

On Feb. 5, Russian sources described the initiative of Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces (SNCROF), for dialogue with the Syrian regime as “a step in the right direction,” without excluding the possibility of its failure.Russian sources told As-Safir that the step made by Khatib “stirs the stagnant water of the Syrian crisis, and breaks the deadlock, which is represented in the exchange of accusations and rejection of dialogue, however, it needs effort to succeed.”

It is unclear, however, how Moscow will deal with Khatib’s condition that dialogue be held only with specific representatives of the regime, and his intention to negotiate the departure of the current regime, especially given that both sides maintain that they are making gains on the ground. Russian sources considered it more probable that the current step would exert pressure on the Syrian government, since it would be forced to respond. “The Russian position will not change” as a result, however. So far, Damascus has refused to call the initiative a breakthrough, and has said that it will reject the conditions for dialogue, particularly any conditions that call for its departure.

The sources concluded that “Russia is optimistic about the recent progress, but cautiously so.”  The sources did not rule out the possibility that the Khatib initiative would lead to divisions within the opposition, especially if the latter coupled its demands with concessions. The Syrian government is betting on that, and considers it inevitable, particularly since Turkey — which stands behind the flow of Islamist militants into northern and eastern Syria, especially Kurdish areas —  is opposing the initiative and the principle of dialogue, as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said. Sources from the Syrian government argued that Khatib had previously demanded the arming of the opposition, and defended the actions of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. If true, this would place the opposition in a place where they would have to be held accountable, supporting the regime’s point of view.

As-Safir has learned that some countries are neutral regarding the Syrian crisis, although their announced positions may be different. These include the UAE, Kuwait, Jordan and Oman, who are willing to facilitate negotiations between the parties, in order to accelerate steps to end the ongoing conflict.

In a statement after the meeting in Beijing between Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad and his Chinese counterpart Zhang  Zhijun, Beijing reiterated “its commitment to find peaceful solutions to the crisis in Syria, based on the UN Charter, the principles of international law and the statement of Geneva, as well as not to allow foreign interference in Syrian internal affairs”. The Syrian National Council, a prominent component of SNCROF violently attacked Khatib, and refused “to engage in any dialogue or negotiation” with the Syrian regime.

In a statement on Facebook, the council said: “the so called initiative for dialogue with the regime, is an individual decision that was not taken nor discussed within the National Coalition, and does not reflect the positions and commitments of the founding forces.”

He added that “the initiative contradicts the coalition’s founding document, which states that the goal of the coalition is to overthrow the incumbent regime and its symbols, dissolve its security apparatuses, hold accountable those responsible for the bloodshed of the Syrian people, and not to engage in dialogue or negotiations with the current regime.”

He pointed out that “regional and international forces that have acted as real partners of the regime over [the last] two years in the killing of Syrians, purging  tens of thousands of them, and destroying villages, towns and entire neighborhoods” are taking part in this initiative. He added that “the meeting between the coalition head and the foreign minister of the Iranian regime (Ali Akbar Salehi) is a blow for the Syrian revolution and its martyrs, and a desperate attempt to enhance the image of Tehran, its interference in Syrian affairs, and its support of the regime’s murder and terrorism by all means.” The council also criticized states supporting the Syrian opposition over its reluctance to arm and fund the opposition, and provide adequate humanitarian aid to the Syrians.

The council added that Khatib’s initiatives had “caused a divide in the political positions of the opposition forces, and confusion in popular and revolutionary circles.” The council warned against continuing “to take unilateral steps, which may increase divisions within it and serve the regime and its allies, who are trying all means to weaken the opposition and deal a blow to the revolution.”

In a statement, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby welcomed Khatib’s initiative, and expressed his willingness to hold a dialogue with representatives of the Syrian authorities. Elaraby expressed hope that the Syrian government would respond to the call for dialogue, adding that the Arab League is willing to “provide all the necessary support and help to facilitate the holding of such a dialogue.” Elaraby stressed “the need to take advantage of any available opportunity to break the cycle of violence, stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people, and put this intractable crisis on the track of a political solution.”

At the opening session of the Israeli Knesset, President Shimon Peres said that “Iran is a threat and Syria a tragedy. Its president is slaughtering his people. In my opinion, the United Nations should commission the Arab League to immediately form a transitional government in Syria to save it from destroying itself. Assad, who has killed tens of thousands, has also killed his own future.”

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