Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat-Informed Arab sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the friends of Syria conference, scheduled for the 24th of February, aims to secure international support for the Arab initiative after the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution because of the Russian and Chinese veto. The sources said that the conference, which is expected to be attended by a large number of Arab and international parties, will be held under a French-Turkish-Tunisian chairmanship. The sources added: “We expect a change in the Russian stand” on the veto that blocks a UN resolution to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
Meanwhile, Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmad Bin-Hilli said the Arab League is not the organizer of the conference of the friends of Syria and that the league received an invitation only to attend, just like any other Arab or regional organization.
Tunisian sources said the friends of Syria conference will discuss three key moves, securing full international backing for the Arab solution plan, complete solidarity with the Syrian people, ending the fighting and violence, and taking the Syrian armed forces out of the equation in order to reach the stage of political settlement, in addition to denouncing all forms of violence that led to the destruction of residential neighborhoods in Syria.
The sources added that the conference also aims to take a decision toward the Syrian opposition or recognize the Syrian National Council. There is strong inclination toward this move, they noted. The sources expected more than 100 states to take part in the conference at a time when some people said the number will range from 70 to 90.
Other Arab sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the friends of Syria conference comes after a competition between the Turks and French when the idea of holding an international conference was proposed after the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution adopting the Arab initiative.
The sources explained that the idea was proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. After discussions, the sources said, it was decided to reach a compromise solution by holding a conference of the friends of Syria, to be hosted by Tunisia. It was also decided that the conference will be held under a French-Turkish-Tunisian chairmanship and that Arab, Islamic, and European states will take part in it, the sources added.
The sources believe that this conference is part of stepped up international efforts to support the Arab initiative and recognize the legitimate interlocutor. With regard to peacekeeping forces, the sources doubt that this action will be taken. They regard it as a kind of pressure on the Syrian regime. Other sources, meanwhile, say the move may be modelled on the UN forces in Darfur that were deployed there to achieve and monitor a ceasefire and intervene on a small scale if the situation and developments on the ground require such intervention.
Member of the Syrian Transitional Council Abdul-Basit Sida said that agreement to establish peacekeeping forces was reached at more than one meeting with the Arab League as a move that would help hold dialogue and implement the Arab initiative that requires a ceasefire. Then action will be taken to implement the initiative that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and delegate the vice president to run the country’s affairs. Afterward, he added, preparations will be made to hold elections in which all Syrian forces will participate.
Earlier, the Arab foreign ministers decided at their meeting to call on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to establish Arab-UN peacekeeping forces to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire. They also decided to ask the Arab group at the United Nations to present as soon as possible to the UN General Assembly a draft resolution containing the Arab initiative and other resolutions that have been passed by the Arab League in this respect. In addition, they decided to ask the Arab League secretary general to name a special envoy to follow the proposed political process as part of the Arab initiative.
It is recalled that Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby did indeed contact former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib to ask him to serve as a “special envoy.” However, no decision has been taken to date, but a decision may be passed after El-Araby returns from his visit to Germany and ahead of the friends of Syria conference, which is due to be held in Tunisia before the end of this month. This is because the ministers emphasized the importance of all Arab states attending this conference, as was indicated in a speech that the Tunisian delegation leader delivered at the Arab Ministerial Council meeting.
El-Araby left for Germany yesterday evening to meet and brief German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the Arab League resolutions regarding the Syrian crisis and the Palestinian issue.
For his part, Bin-Hilli said the Arab League is not the party that is organizing the friends of Syria conference and added that the league only received an invitation to attend the conference, just like any other Arab or regional organization. He noted that EU and UN Security Council members and Arab states will attend.
In reply to a question as to whether the conference will discuss only the issue of supporting the Arab initiative, Bin-Hilli said: “There may be other means to help emerge from the crisis, halt the violence, and stop the bloodshed of the Syrian people.”
Answering a question on the establishment of forces to achieve a ceasefire, he said: “Such action requires Syrian approval and a UN Security Council resolution because it will involve logistical and security obligations.”