December 12, 2012 (TSR) – US President Barack Obama has recognized the main Syrian opposition group as “the legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. This brings the US in line with its allies, including Britain, France and several Arab states.
“We’ve made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime,” Obama said in an interview with ABC.
The recognition marks a major boost for the Syrian rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Obviously, with that recognition comes responsibilities,” Obama said in the interview on Tuesday. “To make sure that they organize themselves effectively, that they are representative of all the parties, that they commit themselves to a political transition that respects women’s rights and minority rights.” government.
Russia is “surprised” by the US move, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on Wednesday. He said that Washington is apparently betting on a military victory for the Syrian rebels, which goes against the Geneva agreement – the international roadmap for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
The recognition of the coalition by the US is likely to indemnify the hostilities in Syria, believes Conn Hallinan, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy in Focus.
“It opens the door for a much more direct intervention into the civil war in Syria. It will mean that the heavy weapons will come in. Potentially you could end up with a no-fly zone. Really, it’s pretty much an open declaration of war against the Assad regime,” he told RT.
Critics contend the coalition and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which supports the opposition body, are closely connected with Islamists. The FSA’s newly elected joint command is estimated to be composed mostly of Muslim Brotherhood-linked commanders and excludes the most senior officers who defected from Assad’s more secular military.
“People here in Washington don’t seem to understand… If you do like the government in Cairo, then you will love the government that comes to power in Damascus. You will see a Sunni Muslim Islamist government, a Muslim Brotherhood-style government, that is absolutely intolerant, fundamentally hostile to the West,” retired US Army Colonel and military author Douglas Macgregor told RT.
The recognition comes after the US Department of State declared a key Syrian rebel group – al-Nusra Front – a terrorist organization. The move was taken despite the group’s success in fighting the Assad regime and protecting rebel strongholds.
The rebel group has been blacklisted for the alleged links it has to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). US officials have expressed concern that al-Qaeda loyalists and radical Islamists are planning to take control of the opposition movement and influence any post-Assad government.
The al-Nursa Front, which is believed to have 6 to 10 thousand militants in its ranks, is defiant towards the Syrian Opposition Coalition, also known as Syrian National Coalition. The body was formed after a conference in Doha in mid-November and has since been recognized as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people by the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, France, Turkey, Italy, the EU and now the US.
The news comes as a group called Friends of Syria are set to meet in Morocco on Wednesday. The meeting of the international collective formed by the US may be missed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton due to urgent health issues. The group is to discuss how the participating countries can bolster the Syrian Opposition Coalition and provide humanitarian relief for Syria.
Syrian opposition urges US to ‘re-examine’ blacklisting of ‘terrorist group’
The leader of Syria’s new opposition group, the National Coalition, says Washington “must reconsider” its decision to blacklist one of the alliance’s members. It comes as the US agrees to accept the coalition as Syria’s official opposition group.
Washington has branded the jihadist Al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, saying it is trying to hijack the Syrian uprising on behalf of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
US officials say the group has claimed responsibility for carrying out nearly 600 attacks that have killed numerous Syrians during the country’s 20-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.
“Washington’s decision to call the Al-Nusra Front terrorists is seen as more of a symbolic move because many other fighters in Syria welcome the efforts of those designated terrorists,” RT correspondent Gayane Chichakyan said.
Symbolic or not, the decision to blacklist the group has been deemed hypocritical since the US has agreed to acknowledge the National Coalition – of which the Al-Nusra Front is a member – as the country’s official opposition group.
The move has also angered opposition leaders.
“The decision to blacklist one of the groups fighting the regime as a terrorist organization must be re-examined,” the bloc’s leader Ahmed Moaz Khatib said at the Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco.
The decision comes after reports that the US is launching a covert operation to supply the Syrian opposition with weapons for the very first time.
If the reports are true, it could mean the US will be supplying the National Coalition with a number of weapons, including SA-7 missiles, which can shoot down planes. Furthermore, it would mean the US is supplying arms to a group which it has openly labeled a terrorist organization.
However, Khatib says any weapons that find themselves in the hands of the opposition will be used for one sole purpose – to overthrow the Assad government.
“We might disagree with some parties and their ideas and their political and ideological vision. But we affirm that all the guns of the rebels are aimed at overthrowing the tyrannical criminal regime,” he said.
Syrian opposition members have recently asked for increased military assistance.
“We need not only bread to help our people. We need support for our Syrian army. We need to speed up things and get rid of this regime,” opposition member Saleem Abdul Aziz al Meslet told AP.
Friends of Syria
Representatives from more than 100 countries, including the US, Britain, France, and Gulf countries, gathered in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh on Wednesday to affirm their support for the National Coalition.
The meeting came one day after US President Barack Obama said the coalition “is now inclusive enough” to be deemed the sole “legitimate representative.”
Conference members also announced new humanitarian assistance for Syrians, including $100 million from Saudi Arabia and a fund for the reconstruction of the country after Assad falls. The fund will be managed by Germany.
The National Coalition was formed after Washington and other western governments criticized the opposition for its lack of unity. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a shakeup of the movement in November.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the recognition of the coalition contradicts international agreements aimed at starting a Syrian dialogue which would include all sides involved in the conflict.