Syrian opposition divided over joining Geneva meet

Syrian opposition divided over joining Geneva meet

ISTANBUL / Hürriyet
Syrian opposition divided over joining Geneva meet

SNC Chief Jarba has reportedly agreed to attend the Geneva meet.

Divisions within the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), are growing ahead of next week’s peace talks amid promises by Britain and the United States to cease support if it fails to send a delegation.

The leader of the SNC, Ahmad Jarba, told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that his group would attend the Geneva II conference two months ago even though the members of the opposition group had not yet agreed on whether to attend the conference. The division came after Ban sent an invitation letter to SNC members for Geneva II.

Forty-four SNC members, including the leaders of seven Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades, out of 121 have withdrawn from the coalition after it was revealed that Jarba had already agreed to attend the conference.

The SNC has previously released pre-conditions for its attendance, including an end to bombardments on civilians, the need for a guarantee that relief agencies be allowed access to besieged areas, the release of political prisoners and the demand that any conference should result in a political transition without President Bashar al-Assad.

‘Majority doesn’t approve attending’

A prominent member of the SNC who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Our aim in withdrawing from SNC is not to attend the Geneva II Conference. None of our pre-conditions have been met until now in Syria. Two-thirds of the SNC members are not in favor of attending the conference. If Jarba continues to ignore all of these and decides to attend the conference despite us, that would lead to a bigger division among the opposition.”

The groups which have decided to withdraw from the SNC are the Local Councils, the City Revolution Councils, the Syria High Revolution Council, the Revolution Movements and the Syria Business Council. The SNC will make its final decision to attend the conference during a general assembly meeting which will be held on Jan. 17 in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, Britain and the U.S. have told the opposition that they will stop their support if it fails to send a delegation to the peace talks, British media reported yesterday.

“The U.S. and U.K. are telling us you need to go to Geneva,” an unnamed senior official in the SNC was quoted as saying by the BBC and The Guardian. “They are making it very clear that they will not continue to support us the way they are doing now and that we will lose credibility with the international community if we do not go.”

But U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry “did not indicate that the United States was planning to cut off assistance” in his public or private pronouncements.

Kerry has said “that there are high stakes at play for the SOC [Syrian Opposition Coalition] and that the international community strongly believes that it is in their interests and the interests of the Syrian people for them to send a representative delegation,” she said.

According to the BBC, the Syrian official questioned whether Britain and the U.S. had any choice in who they dealt with, saying: “What is the alternative? They have a brutal dictator who used chemical weapons on one side and al-Qaeda on the other, so who will they deal with, if not with us?”

British Foreign Minister William Hague also urged the opposition to attend the conference. “We urge it to attend and to put the spotlight on the al-Assad regime’s responsibility to end this terrible conflict,” Hague said Jan. 13.

The National Coalition official, speaking in London, said other Western backers of the opposition were not applying the same pressure as Britain and the U.S. “France is asking us to go but saying that we are with you whatever your decision. That is the same as the Saudi and Turkish stance,” the official was quoted as saying.