Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian National Council, one of the main opposition groups in Syria, said on Saturday it would boycott peace talks on the Syrian crisis expected to begin in Geneva in mid-November, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, the group’s public coordinator, Abdul-Rahman Hajj, said that going to the Geneva II conference represents a strategic loss for the Syrian revolution.
“Our first condition to participate in any negotiations is that it is necessary to get international guarantees for Assad to step down,” Hajj said, adding, “The Friends of Syria have not offered any guarantees within this framework.”
For Hajj, another issue that prevents the Council from participating in Geneva talks is related to the “military balance of power which was supposed to shift in favor of the opposition.”
“But that did not happen,” Hajj said, blaming the “countries that support the Syrian revolution for failing to fulfill their obligations to provide the needed military support.”
For these reasons, Hajj said that “going to any peace negotiations will lead to a settlement, rather than achieve the actual change the Syrian people aspire to.”
The decision to boycott the talks came after two weeks of intensive meetings of the Syrian National Council’s secretariat held in the Turkish capital, Istanbul.
In contrast, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the Syrian opposition’s main umbrella group—of which the Council is a member—has yet to determine whether to take part in the Geneva talks.
The head of the coalition, Ahmed Jarba, previously demanded that any negotiation should be preceded by guarantees that Assad would step down, as well as Arab and Islamic backing, particularly from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and the Arab League.
On Friday, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, met with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, in Paris to discuss the Syrian crisis and the opposition’s participation in the Geneva II talks.
The SNC said it was satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, which it considered a positive step towards obtaining guarantees that Assad will step down.
A senior SNC member, Ahmad Ramadan, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Saudi Arabia and France support the opposition regarding the necessity of obtaining international guarantees for the transition process to start on the basis of establishing an authority with full powers to lead the country after the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad steps down.”
“The Saudi stance in particular, and the Gulf stance in general, constitute a fundamental pillar of support for the SNC,” Ramadan added.
According to Ramadan, this demonstrated the necessity of providing the Syrian opposition with military equipment, particularly after the “Arab League announced it was up to each [Arab] country to support the armed opposition individually.”
“The problem lies in the ambiguous stance of the US, which has been dealing with the Syrian issue from the perspective of dialogue with the Russians and the settlements that may ensue,” he added.
In another development, two mortar shells fell near the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus, where international chemical weapons inspectors and United Nations staff are staying, state-run media said on Saturday.
A child was killed and 11 injured in the blast, SANA news agency said.