Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Since his re-election in January as president of the main western-backed Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Al-Jarba has become increasingly vocal about the need to arm rebel groups in Syria.
With the revolution well into its fourth year and Bashar Al-Assad certain to secure another term in office at the forthcoming show elections and government forces making gains in the strategic Qalamoun and Homs regions, the opposition appears to be in a very week position. But when Asharq Al-Awsat sat down with Jarba during a stopover in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian National Coalition president was firm in his support for the revolution and its future success.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Do you have any fresh ideas for a political solution to the conflict now that the Syrian revolution is in its fourth year?
Ahmed Al-Jarba: The only political solution is one within the framework proposed by Geneva I and the results of Geneva II, which involve the departure of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, the trial of war criminals, and the election of a new governing authority. However, the world has seen how Assad reneged on all his promises in Geneva II, which means the only way to a political solution will be through toppling Assad militarily and quickly, in order to spare Syrian lives.
The international community cannot resolve any crisis without planning for a political solution, because every crisis, be it war or revolution, will inevitably end in a political solution. We have not rejected and will not reject a political solution that would spare the lives of our people and end their misery, and that is what we asked for at Geneva II. The difference between us and our Arab brothers and some major countries is that we know through experience that Assad and those around him only believe in force, and therefore they can only be deterred and forced into a political solution through the use of force. More recently, the major countries have started to realize this, and perhaps the sophisticated American weapons that have reached the revolutionaries are the main indicator of a fundamental change in the views of the international community.
Q: Do you think there has been a change in the international community’s attitude toward the revolution?
The international community has let down the Syrian revolution from the first day, and it still does. We do not deny that the international stance towards the revolution is improving, but in light of the unprecedented massacres committed by Assad daily, we do not see it as an appropriate or acceptable improvement. In summary, I say the international community is moving in the right direction—but at the speed of a tortoise—while Assad and his mercenaries continue to kill Syrians.
Q: What’s your opinion of the presidential elections announced by the regime and scheduled for June 3?
If the elections take place—and I stress, if they take place—they will be the farce of the century and will write another sorry chapter in the Assad clan’s history. They will not be recognized by the world [community], except for a few rogue states. What is more important is that the Syrian people have rejected it in advance and voted with their blood in favor of closing the dark chapter of the Assad clan in the history of Syria and the region.
Q: What brings you to Saudi Arabia?
My visit to the Kingdom is natural and falls within the constant coordination with the most prominent supporter of the Syrian revolution. Our agenda stays the same, it does not change and is united in its aims and details with those of the Kingdom. It centers around providing the revolutionaries with sophisticated weapons, which could be decisive in the war against the regime.
Q: What was the outcome of your talks with Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz?
The meeting with Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, given his influence and experience, is evidence of the interest and support of the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, for the Syrian people. It is also further proof that the Kingdom continues to support our people’s fight to end the injustice they are suffering. It is common knowledge that the Kingdom is one of the biggest supporters of our cause in all fields, through their support of the rights of Syrian people to defend their dignity and protect unarmed civilians.
Q: Can you tell us the outcomes of your recent visits to the UAE and China?
The UAE, just like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is a supporter of our cause and our rights, and we are in constant contact with its leaders. It is one of the 11 countries that form the Friends of Syria group and it plays a role in helping Syrians in neighboring countries. The Syrian people hold the UAE and its leadership in high regard.
China is a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council and has used its veto in favor of Assad more than once. However, we saw a shift in the Chinese position during the Geneva II conference, and I think that China has started to open up to the Coalition and is trying to take a different approach than that of Russia. We hope China will at least be neutral, since we have noticed a gradual change in the Chinese position.
Q: Assad’s forces have recently made advances in Qalamoun and Homs. How were they able to take control of these areas?
We cannot talk about cities under Assad’s control. Syria is divided between liberated areas and others under direct and indirect Iranian occupation. Talking about control by Assad and his army is just media propaganda which has been refuted in open statements by Iranian officials and the [leader] of Lebanese Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who confirms daily that Assad has become a junior employee in an Iranian plan that is bigger than Syria itself. I can categorically tell you that with all the advances mentioned by the so-called rejection axis recently, the occupied areas in Syria do not exceed 40 percent at best.
Q: What is your response to Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s recent denigrating remarks about the Coalition? I believe he described it as a “Hotel Coalition” and said the Free Syrian Army (FSA) operates in a “bubble” . . .
I find Maliki strange. He entered Iraq with the help of 150,000 American soldiers and now we see him showing off and saying these things about the Syrian opposition, when he himself lived in Syria for many years. If there was anything like a “Hotel Opposition,” he is the last man to talk about the subject. Many of us left Syria after the revolution, and I am one of those, and our contacts to [events on the ground] are known to all. There is not one month that goes by without my meeting people in Syria, whether in the south, the north or on the coast, and the FSA is the army that liberated the areas in Syria that are free today. If Maliki sees that as a “bubble,” then that is wishful thinking , as he always tries to cover the participation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah and extremist militias affiliated to him. He covers them with talk about terrorist organizations that we fight and condemn. Maliki’s role in collaborating with and supporting the Assad regime, both financially and militarily, is well known—and this is the way he repays the Syrian people for the way they hosted him for many years in Damascus.
This interview was originally conducted in Arabic.