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Syrian Coalition to decide on Geneva II and new chief on Monday - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Member National Coalition Of Syria Suheir Atassi, Head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, Secretary General National Coalition of Syria Badr Jamous, Member National Coalition Of Syria  Salim Muslit, Leaders of the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC), Muhammet Faruq Tayfur  during a Syrian opposition groups meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on November 9, 2013. (EPA/SEDAT SUNA)

Member National Coalition Of Syria Suheir Atassi, Head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, Secretary General National Coalition of Syria Badr Jamous, Member National Coalition Of Syria Salim Muslit, Leaders of the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC), Muhammet Faruq Tayfur during a Syrian opposition groups meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on November 9, 2013. (EPA/SEDAT SUNA)

Paris and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is due to hold a two-day meeting on Sunday and Monday in Istanbul amid increasing international pressure on its leaders to participate in the Geneva II peace conference scheduled to begin on January 22.

The Coalition will make its final decision on Geneva II and elect a new presidential committee at the meeting. The two figures competing for the presidency are the incumbent, Ahmad Al-Jarba, and former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.

Opposition sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that there was a group within the Coalition which was “intent on participation at any cost,” despite the lack of guarantees demanded by the opposition.

There are also doubts about the establishment of a transitional authority with full powers—a stated goal of the conference—following the announcement by the Syrian government that it would not hand over power.

The parties who supported participation warned that rejecting Geneva II would be “akin to a gift to the Assad regime, which does all it can to stop the opposition attending the conference.” They also said refusal to go to Geneva II would anger the “Friends of Syria” group, especially the US.

Coalition sources said “Washington’s representatives did not offer anything tangible” to the opposition regarding the possible outcome of the Geneva talks.

Meanwhile, European diplomatic sources have told the opposition that the positions announced by the Assad regime and the Russians were “negotiable,” which meant they could change.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Moscow “will not abandon Assad, [in the event that they do, it will not be] until the end of the negotiations, after it receives guarantees about the party which will form the transitional government, its powers, its leading figures, and the future of the Syrian armed forces and the security forces, and Russian interests.”

In the meantime, the parties who opposed participation said the talks “would not achieve anything” and that there was “nothing encouraging on the horizon.”

These parties proposed a fundamental solution which united opposition factions in the field. Members of this group say this is the only option because the Coalition will not gain anything from Geneva, but would probably give credibility to the Assad regime by negotiating with it.

In the meantime, the Coalition is working hard at finding a formula which absolves the opposition of responsibility in the event of the failure of the Geneva talks.

A member of the secretariat of the Coalition, Abdelrahman El-Haj, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Coalition’s general council will make its final decision on participation in Geneva II during the Sunday and Monday meeting.

He added that “there were vast differences in views on the participation in the international conference, and the number of those who agree to participation is equal to that who oppose.”

According to the Coalition’s own rules, it needs a two-thirds majority of its 120-strong governing council to decide.

The Syrian National Council, a prominent member of the Coalition with almost two dozen delegates on the Coalition council, has already come out against attending the talks.