The various parties of the Syrian opposition movement agree: the ideas proposed by the chairman of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCR), Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, have shaken things up with regard to finding a political solution. This is regardless of whether political and military opposition forces agree with Khatib’s proposal. Khatib has also called for a focus on arming the opposition and putting an end to the disastrous political-money issue, which now controls the key joints of the Syrian revolution.
Elsewhere, the political opposition inside Syria said that what Khatib proposed was not new to them but only to the foreign-based opposition, which has some parties calling for a political solution while others insist on a military solution. Some think that the impetus for a political solution should be given by the UN Security Council or through a major international guarantee.
As-Safir spoke with three leaders in the National Coordination Committee (NCC), the most prominent opposition group based inside Syria, about its vision for a political solution and how the regime might respond to it.
NCC General Coordinator Hassan Abdul Azim said that the regime has responded to Khatib’s proposal through Information Minister Imran Zoubi and later through Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad. Both said that they are ready for dialogue without preconditions. But, in reality, both sides have preconditions. What’s important is that the regime responded positively to the proposal.
In a discussion with As-Safir, Abdul Azim said that the regime has become convinced that a political solution is necessary, and that the military solution has failed and has harmed the people and the country. Moreover, Khatib won't easily take back his proposal, because it has become a shared American, Russian and international principle. Khatib’s proposal was not a personal initiative. Prominent NCR figures, such as Riad Seif and Burhan Ghalioun, support it. Those two believe that the international community thinks that continued violence threatens Syria and the entire region and that a political solution and a peaceful power transition are needed.
"After Khatib’s proposal, we feel that the NCR has moved closer to the NCC’s vision and initiative, which was adopted by the Arab and international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and reflected in the Geneva Accord," Abdul Azim said. "There is an increasing conviction within the NCR on the need for a peaceful power transition."
In a response to a question by As-Safir regarding the timing of a transition, cessation of violence and release of the detainees, Abdul Azim said, “That will happen when the international powers reach an agreement and implement the Geneva decisions, which call for stopping the violence, releasing the detainees, providing relief to the affected areas, and negotiating to produce a government with full powers that would pave the way for a transition that includes parliamentary and presidential elections. But this needs a Security Council resolution requiring both the regime and the opposition to stop the violence. So either the Security Council will issue such a resolution, or during the meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin there will be a joint American-Russian statement calling for the cessation of violence and the implementation of the Geneva Accord. And then we will see who will abide by the decision and who will not.”
Abdul Azim stressed the need for a “Cairo II” conference under the auspices of the Arab League and regional powers. He said that the conference would gather the opposition forces and revolutionaries, who will follow up on the Cairo document and select a unified opposition leadership, which would be a democratic group able to negotiate with all regional and international powers.
The NCC’s information officer, the economist Munther Khaddam, said, “The military solution has only caused destruction and the only remaining option is the political option, which needs to be agreed upon and for which we in the NCC have prepared the atmosphere. Negotiations require clear foundations and clear goals. They are not just public relations, as the regime says. Negotiations are needed to stabilize the country. What Khatib said was not new to us but was new to those abroad because they have decided to reject dialogue and topple the regime. We have supported what Khatib said because it is in the right direction. We lose nothing by negotiating. It is the regime that loses by negotiating. It fears negotiations and wants them to happen only according to its conditions. But no one will agree to them. It is wrong to consider the regime a deaf entity.”
Khaddam continued, “Russian and Iranian support for the proposal has discomforted [the regime], which is trying to maintain harmony with its allies. What I understood from Zoubi was that dialogue under the regime’s terms is unacceptable, and that it is not reasonable after all this bloodshed to negotiate over what the regime seeks and then reproduce an authoritarian regime. On the other hand, we should not place a lot of importance on deadlines. We should look at the process as a whole. It does not stop at a specific point in time. We hope that the NCR will take a new approach and reconsider the political option.”
Regarding the criticisms against the NCC, he said, “The NCC is the nation’s conscience and is independent, which scares many regional powers that do not think like Syrians do. So I am not surprised at the anti-NCC attacks, which are intended to bury what Khatib said. Building Syria is not in the interest of many countries, which want to destroy and sabotage this country. This is how we interpret the extreme positions, be they regional or international, with regard to rejecting dialogue. It’s as if they are the guardians of the Syrian people.”
Raja Nasser, the NCC’s secretary, was asked about the next step after the Geneva conference, which supports a continued revolution until peaceful change is achieved. He said that the democratic choice in Syria should be strengthened and its external relations improved. "We will hold meetings at home and abroad, as well as conferences in Europe and the Arab world in order to gather more support for the opposition inside," he said.
Nasser said that “although the discussions were theoretical on the first day, they turned highly political on the second day, and there was a lot of attendance from the internal political opposition. The objective of the discussions were to stress the importance of using peaceful means and rejecting violence by anyone, especially by the regime, since it is the strongest. That should not be seen as a move against the opposition but as a way to stop the bloodshed and the violence, something which the Syrian people want.”
Nasser, a lawyer from Aleppo, said that Khatib’s proposal improves the chances of a political solution and does not cause more divisions, which already exist between those calling for peaceful regime change and those who wish to remove the regime by violence regardless of what follows. What we need today is an international consensus on Syria, not a quarrel over it. “We believe that there is an American-Russian desire for a political solution. This is what Khatib detected and based his proposal on. I do not know if that will affect the NCR, but we believe that Khatib is heading in the right direction,” Nasser said.
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