Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian National Coalition has decided to postpone its general council meeting from November 1 to the 9th in a bid to “make room for communications aimed at reaching a unified [opposition] stance towards participation in Geneva II,” Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
The decision came following a meeting between the US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, and several Syrian opposition figures in Istanbul on Wednesday.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Coalition member Hisham Marwa denied any connection between the Coalition’s decision and its meeting with Ford.
The decision to postpone came to “give the Friends of Syria an opportunity to carry out political maneuvers and achieve a larger breakthrough on the international level to force the [Assad] regime to recognize the outcome of Geneva I, particularly Article 6, which stipulates power transfer in the country.”
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, another member of the coalition, Abdul-Rahman Hajj, said that Ford “met with members of the Council’s executive bureau in the presence of the Council’s head, George Sabra, in a bid to urge it to change its position on attending Geneva II,” adding that the “Council dealt with [Ford’s] attempt in a positive way.”
Hajj said that the Council made it clear to Ford that the communiqué issued by the Friends of Syria in London “is not enough” and “needs to be turned into tangible procedures.”
Among these procedures, Hajj said, is “convincing the other sides, particularly Russia, to agree to the points of the communiqué and changing [Moscow’s] and Tehran’s attitudes towards it.”
The Friends of Syria group has issued a communiqué calling for the creation of a transitional government in Syria with full political and military powers and with no role for the current president, Bashar Al-Assad.
Despite the pressures they exercised, the Friends of Syria group failed to convince the opposition to attend the Geneva talks.
According to Hajj, “After it announced its rejection of attending the [Geneva] conference, the Council came under enormous pressures from the Friends of Syria and Russia,” whose General Consul in Istanbul “made efforts for the Council to reconsider its position” in a meeting on Thursday.
Pressures from US and EU continue to mount as the Coalition remains undecided as to whether it will attend Geneva II.
Several officials from the US Department of State are set to hold an extensive meeting with Coalition’s political council and the Syrian National Council’s executive bureau in an attempt to convince the two groups to attend the talks.
A member of the Coalition, Ahmad Ramadan, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the opposition will change its stance on Geneva II if the Friends of Syria guarantee Assad’s compliance with the outcomes of Geneva I and prevent Iran from attending.
Ramadan said that the opposition refuses any settlement that allows Assad to remain in power, adding, “He does not only have to step down, but also face—together with all regime officials—trial for the crimes they have committed against the Syrian people.”
Ramadan announced he did not expect any breakthrough to happen regarding the stance of the opposition before the meeting, adding, “Until now, all that is being put forward does not exceed promises and verbal assurances with the absence of any executive steps.”
“The opposition will not change its position unless it obtains serious guarantees, particularly with the US stance altering from one capital to another and from one conference to another,” he added.
Ramadan denied claims that the opposition is fragmented, confirming that the “political and military opposition is united more than ever particularly regarding its stance toward participation in Geneva II and deliberations among [its components] are ongoing.”
According to Ramadan, the Assad regime has been given a chance by the international community to sidestep the outcomes of Geneva I, citing the failure of UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in achieving a breakthrough or gaining a commitment on the part of the regime to implement the terms of that agreement.
Another Coalition member, Samir Nashar, described the communiqué issued by the Friends of Syria as “highly advanced” compared to previous ones. He demanded that the outcomes of Geneva I serve as basis for Geneva II.
Nashar emphasized the need to “clarify one basic point pertaining to the political and military powers to be granted to the transitional government.”
“After feeling the gap separating it from the Syrian opposition and the Friends of Syria, particularly following the deal it struck with Iran regarding chemical weapons, the US is trying to work on dispelling concerns of the other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey,” he added.
On the other hand, a spokesman for the National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCC), Munzer Khaddam, said that the Coalition incorrectly thinks it is the “only legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
“Any party taking part in Geneva II will not be able to achieve all of what it wants,” he said.
Nazeer Rida contributed reporting.