Opposition Leader Describes Obstacles to US-Russia Deal on Syria

A leading Syrian opposition figure outlines the three main obstacles hindering an understanding between Russia and America, explaining the grave regional implications of further delays.

al-monitor Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) shakes hands with Haytham Manna of Syria's National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change during their meeting in Moscow, March 11, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov.

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us, syrian opposition, syrian, russian

Apr 30, 2013

The chairman of Syria's opposition National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), Hassan Abdel Azim, cautioned that continued violence and strife in the country would cause “the Syrian inferno to spread to Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.” He also pointed out that three points of contention stood in the way of a Russian-American understanding to solve the Syrian crisis, especially since Washington wants an agreement reached that would cover “all the details” related to the transitional phase.

Abdel Azim made these comments in a telephone call with Al-Hayat after his meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, during which the two men discussed the escalating level of violence in Syria lately that “threatened the country, ripped apart its national fabric, paved the way for the prolongation of armed conflict and the adoption of a military solution. It also made the country susceptible to ethnic and religious strife that directly affects social stability through incidents similar to the abduction of the two bishops, which in itself threatened the presence of Levantine Christians in Syria and around the region.”

They also discussed the results of the American-Russian negotiations and the contacts made by the NCC aimed at unifying the opposition, while the region and world’s powers completely “ignored” these efforts, choosing to focus their attention on the Syrian National Coalition instead.

Abdel Azim continued by saying “attention should not exclusively be given to a single faction of the opposition. Recognizing the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people was nothing more than an attempt to further consecrate the same old authoritarian and exclusionary approach, whereby one exclusionary regime would be replaced with another one similarly predicated on a one-party system, one-party rule and one-party leadership.”

Concerning the results of Russian-American negotiations, Abdel Azim said there was “an understanding in principle to bolster” the implementation of the Geneva plan reached last June. But three obstacles stood in the way. The first revolved around the Americans believing that giving support to the armed opposition would help it “change the balance of power on the ground” and pressure the regime into accepting a compromise solution. This, in turn, pushes the regime’s allies into giving it additional support to offset the balance of power in its favor, while Moscow thinks that such an approach only confounds matters and complicates attempts to reach a solution.

The second obstacle is that the American administration wants an agreement reached “on all details” of the transitional phase, including the identities of the interim prime minister and his cabinet members. In contrast, Moscow is desirous of a general agreement on principles, while leaving to the Syrians themselves the task of agreeing on the different aspects of the transitional phase, with sponsor states intervening to facilitate dialogue between them.

In the meeting, Bogdanov said that his country sought an international resolution under Chapter 6 of the United Nations Charter that Russia and China would not be forced to veto, and would include directives for all factions to stop fighting, the mutual release of detainees and prisoners, and the start of negotiations between the regime and the opposition.

The third obstacle lies in the fact that Washington views the coalition as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people, which all other opposition factions must join. Moscow, on the other hand, favors cooperation between opposition factions, particularly the NCC and the National Conference to Rescue Syria, which was held late last year and included more opposition factions. This would facilitate the formation of a supreme coordinating committee, allowing the initiation of negotiations with the regime.

Abdel Azim noted that Western countries were beginning to change their stances lately regarding this last issue. They seemed weary of the divisions within the coalition and supported the idea of a “substantial expansion” of its ranks and were growing increasingly concerned about the escalating levels of violence and the “possibility that it may spiral out of control.”

A statement issued by the NCC yesterday [April 29] reported that Abdel Azim and Bogdanov stressed that “the continued violence and its escalation have become a threat to the Syrian state as an entity, putting in danger its existence on a military, economic, social and political level. Meanwhile, they both agreed on the necessity of adopting a political solution, and the impossibility of a military one succeeding.”

Although the statement quoted Abdel Azim and Bogdanov as agreeing “to cooperate in order to put an end to foreign military intervention, and prevent the inferno from spreading to Lebanon, Jordan and other countries,” the chairman of the NCC stressed, during a meeting with the Secretary-General of the Nasserist Popular Party, Osama Saad, in Beirut, “the importance of Lebanon and all Lebanese national forces not exacerbating the situation by sending militants to Syria. On the contrary, they should help us put an end to violence and bloodshed, while pressuring international powers into favoring a political solution to the crisis and a peaceful transfer of power.”

It was further noteworthy that the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region and the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Massoud Barzani, chaired a meeting of Syrian Kurdish party leaders in the Saladin province of Iraqi Kurdistan. Present were representatives of the Kurdish National Council, while the Progressive Kurdish Democratic Party, headed by Abdel Hamid Darwish, and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, led by Saleh Muslim, boycotted the meeting. The Kurdish Walati news agency quoted the leader of the Kurdish Azadi Party, Mustafa Oso, as saying that the meeting dealt with “the state of the Kurdish National Council and the disagreements within its ranks.” It also covered the need to work toward implementing the Hawler Agreement struck between the Kurdish National Council and the People's Council of West Kurdistan to merge and form a unified military force.

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