Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following a meeting of the Friends of Syria Group in Paris on Sunday, the Syrian National Coalition opposition group reaffirmed its rejection of Bashar Al-Assad playing any role in the country’s future, adding that it will make a final decision on attending the internationally-backed Geneva II peace talks on January 17.
Coalition president Ahmed Jarba said: “We all agree that neither Assad nor his family can have a role in Syria’s future.”
“There is indisputable consensus on the issue of [Assad] ceding power,” he added.
The 11 countries which make up the Friends of Syria Group met in Paris earlier this week and called on the Syrian opposition to participate in the Geneva II peace talks which are set to begins in Monteux on January 22, and continue in Geneva two days later.
Following the meeting, members of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group expressed “cautious optimism” that assurances from their international backers will prevent Bashar Al-Assad remaining in power.
The new development raises hopes that the Coalition, the most prominent international representative of Syria’s opposition groups, will attend the internationally-backed peace talks.
Members of the Coalition, which is divided over the issue of participation in this month’s conference, insist that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and senior members of his government cannot play any role in a future Syria or the transitional government. However, Damascus refuses to discuss Assad’s fate, saying the issue is for the Syrian people to decide through the ballot box.
Coalition member Hisham Al-Marwah told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that “Al-Jarba’s announcement has left a positive impact on us.”
“International guarantees must be accompanied with pressure on the Syrian government to force it to hand over power to a transitional authority with full powers,” he added.
Marwah affirmed that “the results of the Friends of Syria meeting will reflect positively on the Coalition’s negotiations about participation in Geneva II.”
“Jarba will explain the nature of the guarantees he received from the Friends of Syria at the meeting of the general council on January 17,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
However, Marwah warned that the Coalition would not make a decision on attending the Geneva II conference without consulting with opposition fighters on the ground in Syria.
He said: “A Coalition committee was formed to contact opposition military forces at all levels,” adding that “the Coalition will not make a decision on Geneva II without agreement with the military forces.
Representatives of groups within the Free Syrian Army (FSA), issued a statement on Monday explaining the reasons behind their recent withdrawal from the Coalition.
The statement said: “The Coalition has failed to establish a national army from the revolutionary forces on the ground because they selected the wrong tools and people for this task.”
The statement added: “By distributing the funds directly from Coalition leaders and bypassing the chiefs of staff, it has lost the respect [of fighters] and resulted in a decline in the military effort, causing the FSA to suffer significant setbacks.”
Forty-four of the 112 members of the Coalition announced their withdrawal during a recent meeting in Istanbul. This development was the latest in a string of internal disagreements within the body, which faces accusations of ineffectiveness and being out of touch with members of the opposition on the ground in Syria.
Elsewhere, the Syrian ambassador in Moscow, Riyad Haddad, has announced that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem will visit Moscow ahead of the Geneva II conference. Syrian government newspaper Al-Watan said a Syrian delegation will visit Moscow at the end of this week and was expected to arrive in Moscow on Thursday.
The Syrian government denounced the meeting in Paris, and maintains its position that any preconditions attached to the negotiations by the opposition are illegitimate.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, quoted a Syrian Foreign Ministry source as saying “any preconditions to the Geneva II conference will lead to the failure of the conference which aims to find a solution for the crisis, and which will be held next week.”
According to the same source, the Foreign Ministry added that “Damascus agreed to participate in Geneva II without prior conditions because it said repeatedly that dialogue between Syrians was the solution.”
The Foreign Ministry also said “the Syrian Arab Republic was not surprised at what took place in Paris–which was a meeting of enemies of the Syrian people–and the statements which resulted, which are closer to delusions than reality.”
“Such statements,” the ministry added, “only come from people who are separated from reality and are devoid of any adequate political logic.”