Syria 'Friends' recognize Syrian National Council

Western, Arab nations call on UN-Arab League envoy Annan to find steps to persuade Assad to end the conflict.

By REUTERS
April 1, 2012 16:41
3 minute read.
Syrian opposition members visit Moscow

Syrian opposition 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

ISTANBUL - Western and Arab nations recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of all Syrians on Sunday, and the main opposition interlocutor with the international community.

They called on UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan to determine a timeline for next steps to persuade President Bashar Assad to end the conflict in Syria, including a return to the UN Security Council, if the killing continues.

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The "Friends of Syria" also said, in a final communique obtained by Reuters, that the window of opportunity for Assad to meet his commitments was not open-ended.

Speaking after the conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the international community would not allow Assad to "misuse another opportunity," saying current efforts to end the conflict there represented a last chance.

Davutoglu told a news conference that the international community had been too slow in responding to the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s and it should now act decisively and without delay.

At the meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged members of Assad's government to halt operations targeting civilians, or face "serious consequences."

"Our message must be clear to those who give the orders and those who carry them out: Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face serious consequences," Clinton said in prepared remarks.

"Your countrymen will not forget, and neither will the international community," she added.

Clinton also said the United States was providing communications equipment to Syria's civilian opposition. "We are discussing with our international partners how best to expand this support," she said.

While the Obama administration has called on Assad to accept a new peace plan proposed by United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, the United States has so far shown little appetite for arming the rebels or intervening militarily along the lines of the NATO-led operation in Libya last year.

"Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises," Clinton said of the Assad government's delay in implementing the peace plan from UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan despite apparently accepting it.

Britain said on Sunday that foot dragging by Assad over the Annan plan will trigger fresh pressure on him at the UN Security Council and possibly increase foreign governments' financing of the Syrian opposition.

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Foreign Secretary William Hague issued the warning to Assad in comments to journalists before joining the "Friends of Syria" conference.

Assad has accepted the peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, but his forces continued an artillery and mortar bombardment of a pro-opposition neighborhood in the city of Homs on Saturday.

"The Assad regime has said they accepted the Annan plan but they haven't done anything about it. The fighting continues," Hague said.

"Increased financial support for the opposition will be one of the consequences of the Assad regime playing for time in implementing the Annan proposals," he said.

"One of the messages from this conference is that it will be important to implement the Annan plan, and there isn't an indefinite amount of time to do that before we here, the 'Friends of Syria,' need to go back to the United Nations Security Council or intensify funding for the Syrian opposition.

"We do need the Assad regime to take action not just words. That does not mean that today we will set an expiry date, but it does depend what they do on the ground."

Britain announced a doubling of non-lethal assistance for the Syrian resistance in recent days, a tactic already adopted by the United States, and one that Turkey has said it will match.

Some Gulf Arab countries have said that more backing should be given to the rebel Syrian Free Army in order to protect civilians caught in Assad's crackdown on the year-long revolt.

Hague said that participants in the Istanbul meeting were discussing what form financing for the opposition should take, adding it was undecided whether it would be a "trust fund", as suggested by some governments.

The British minister noted the efforts by the opposition Syrian National Council to become a more open and inclusive group, saying it had "done better in recent days".


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