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US welcomes Syrian opposition unification efforts – White House source | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat – The US yesterday welcomed the Syrian opposition reaching an agreement on the formation of the “Syrian National Council” [SNC] in Istanbul on Sunday. However Washington warned against immediate international recognition of the SNC until more information is available about its members and operations.

Following a two-day meeting in Istanbul, Syrian opposition leaders announced that they had reached an agreement on the aims and structure of the SNC, which was first announced last month.

SNC Chairman Burhan Ghailoun, a France-based academic and Syrian dissident, announced that the SNC had succeeded in uniting opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, both inside and outside of Syria.

Speaking to Agence-France Presse [AFP], Ghailoun said that “the Syrian National Council reunites the forces of the opposition and the peaceful revolution” adding that “the council rejects any outside interference that undermines the sovereignty of the Syrian people.”

Ghailoun stressed that the SNC will work to “mobilise all categories of people in Syria and give the necessary support for the revolution to progress and realise the aspirations of our people for the overthrow of the regime, its symbols and its head.”

A White House official told Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday that “we welcome the efforts of the Syrian opposition to unify their ranks.” However the US official decline to specifically welcome the formation of the SNC, saying “the process is still in an early stage, the important thing is for the [Syrian] opposition to unite and stand for universal rights and for it to be built upon genuine trust and cooperation for the future of Syria.” The White House official added “this is the message that we are sending to the Syrians.”

As for the steps that the SNC must take to secure US recognition, along the lines of the US and indeed international recognition of the National Transitional Council [NTC] in Libya, the White House official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there are a number of legal steps, we do not know all the [SNC] members or what they believe or whether they represent all the people of Libya.” He added “our concern is for the [Syrian] opposition to represent all the people of Syria and protects their rights.”

The SNC yesterday asked Istanbul to offer international recognition and protection to the Syrian opposition at home, however there is strong US reluctance to giving the Syrian opposition any promises or guarantees of protection, whilst most US officials are also extremely reluctant to see any foreign intervention in the volatile situation in Syria. The White House official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “it is not clear that the Syrian people are united in their view regarding whether or not the international community should play a role in what is happening [in Syria], this is the Syrian people’s revolution, not our revolution, however we want to help them to reach a transitional stage and achieve their ambitions.”

The SNC will reportedly include representatives from the Damascus Declaration group, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a number of Kurdish political parties and groups, as well as the Syrian Local Co-ordination Committees that have led the protests across the country, in addition to other independent and tribal figures.

As for the questions about US Ambassador Robert Ford’s continued presence in Syria, the US official reiterated Washington’s position which is committed to Ford remaining in Damascus. The US official said “Ambassador Ford enjoys the complete confidence of this administration…we require his presence [in Damascus] more than at any time before.” US Ambassador Ford has been strongly criticized by the al-Assad regime, and even subject to attack and intimidation. Despite this, Washington is committed to his remaining as their representative in Syria, and the US official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the threats against Ambassador Ford are unjustified and unacceptable, and we remind the Syrian government of its responsibility to protect the diplomats in Syria.” He added that Ford is carrying out an “extremely important mission”, namely “witnessing what is taking place in Syria.”