Syria’s internal opposition to stay out of Geneva II

The head of the opposition National Coordination Committee says that the internal Syrian opposition is sitting out the Geneva II conference because it refuses to attend under the National Coalition’s umbrella.

al-monitor Hassan Abdel Azim (C), leader of a Syrian opposition delegation, speaks during a meeting with Mikhail Margelov, head of the Russian Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, in Moscow, Apr. 18, 2012..

Topics covered

syrian opposition, syrian civil war, snc, ncc, internationalization of the syrian conflict, geneva ii

Jan 21, 2014

In a central Damascus office, the agenda of the general coordinator of the opposition National Coordination Committee (NCC), Hassan Abdel Azim, is filled with meetings with NCC members on one hand, and with Arab and foreign diplomats on the other.

With all that, meeting with this octogenarian lawyer is a difficult matter, especially with the Geneva II conference about to start in the Swiss city of Montreux tomorrow [Jan. 22].

The NCC’s decision not to attend the conference has not changed, despite its recent communication with the Syrian National Coalition. The NCC refuses to participate under the Coalition umbrella, and there is a real fear that the Geneva conference may be turned into an agreement designed to achieve international interests at the expense of the Syrian people. In contrast, Abdel Azim calls for strengthening the opposition front and for providing a clear and coherent vision that will contribute to the maturation of a political solution.

As-Safir: The Syrian National Coalition offered you a place to participate in the international conference, but you insisted on refusing. What were the reasons behind that?

Abdel Azim: Yesterday evening [Jan. 20], I received a call from the president of the National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, inviting me to attend the Geneva conference as part of their delegation. After meetings with the office of Daily Work in the NCC yesterday, and before the executive office’s meeting, we announced [our refusal] to participate in the National Coalition delegation because the opposition forces at home are being ignored. It is unacceptable for us to have [such minor] representation in a conference that we have demanded for a long time. We were supposed to receive a separate invitation from the United Nations, so that the NCC and the Kurdish Supreme Committee would attend side by side with the National Coalition, not under its umbrella. But we received from the UN representative a copy of the letter sent to Jarba. [The letter] asked him to form the opposition delegation. We were not invited as an independent party. That means that the opposition presence at the conference will be weak.

There was supposed to be meetings and negotiations with the National Coalition, independent forces and the Kurdish Supreme Committee in order to form a unified delegation and a unified program. That is according to a meeting between us and a coalition delegation in Cairo in the past few weeks. At the time, Jarba was very understanding and positive.

As-Safir: After your last decision, have you communicated with the Russian side or with the Arab and international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi? And what did they say?

Abdel Azim: After the meeting of the executive office on Jan. 14, I received a call from the current Russian ambassador in Damascus, Azmatullah Komahmedov. He asked us not to rush into such a decision and to try to make the international conference succeed. We informed him of our adherence to our decision in accordance with the given conditions, which marginalize the nationalist opposition forces.

I also received a call from Brahimi in which he said that he regretted the NCC’s absence from the conference, yet he stressed his respect for our decision. He is familiar with the NCC’s work and members regarding our support of freedom and dignity for the Syrian people. He later issued a statement emphasizing the NCC’s importance, role and commitment to a political solution and to the success of Geneva. He expressed a deep vision and he’s fully aware that the NCC is indispensable.

As-Safir: In light of the current circumstances, what outcome do you expect from the conference?

Abdel Azim: There is a major concern that international agreements will be reached at the expense of the aspirations of the Syrian people and their hopes for freedom and democracy. Holding the conference in such a situation makes it seem as if the UN decision is supreme, while in fact it’s just to implement international resolutions that have been prepared in advance.

The goal is not holding the Geneva II conference just for the sake of holding it, but to reach decisions that contribute to stopping the violence, releasing the detainees, lifting the siege and beginning the process of political and democratic transition. This cannot happen in the absence of a balanced and acceptable opposition delegation. So there is no substitute for the Geneva II conference, which calls for a political solution. That was the NCC’s decision since the beginning. We told the Arab League, [former UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan and Brahimi that we are committed to a political solution. We also welcomed last May’s announcement about the conference, because we consider it the solution to and the exit from the Syrian crisis.

The problem that led us to be absent are the current conditions, which imposed one representative for the opposition and kept others away. The United States and Russia, in their capacities as the main sponsors for the international meeting, are responsible for that matter. So we requested that the conference be postponed until there are healthy conditions for participation and until the work of a unified opposition program is achieved.

As-Safir: What steps are required to achieve these conditions?

Abdel Azim: What’s required is to form a strong and united opposition delegation that can negotiate and start the national and democratic change that would end the authoritarian regime and move the country to a new system. What’s needed at this stage is to hold a national conference for all Syrian opposition parties, to unify them at home and abroad, and to restore [the opposition’s] status and role, and that would constitute a force that would defend the aspirations of the Syrian people.

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