Hillary Clinton speaking 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao )
WASHINGTON – In a show of support for anti- Assad opposition members, US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with one of two Syrian opposition
coalitions on Monday hours before Damascus denied that it had begun a
significant crackdown on rebel groups.
The secretary of state met with
seven leaders of the Syrian National Council (SNC), including the organization’s
president Prof. Burhan Ghalioun, for nearly two hours in Geneva, Switzerland, in
order to hear its plans for a democratic transition and for reaching out to
Syria’s varied ethnic and religious minorities.
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delegation included a woman, Christians, a Kurd, an Alawi, a Circassian and
State Department officials said that Clinton and the SNC
members spoke about the divideand- conquer approach of Assad’s regime in pitting
Syrian minorities – such as Kurds and Assyrians – against each other, and the
use of violent strategies such as the targeting of children and rape against
both men and women.
One opposition member told Clinton that “it is the
regime that is trying to militarize, sectarianize and Islamicize our revolution
Clinton expressed her hope that Assad would agree to step
down and leave office in the near future, and complimented the SNC’s transition
plan, saying that it should even appeal to Syrians who supported the Assad
regime as ensuring regional stability.
The meeting also discussed the
Arab League initiative on Syria, and the importance of the Assad regime
implementing the steps as it agreed to do in early November.
State Department official said that “the United States considers the Syrian
National Council to be a leading and legitimate representative of Syrians
seeking a peaceful, democratic transition,” but stopped short of offering any
official status to the coalition. The SNC is the newer of the two opposition
coalitions, and is considered to be more conservative, including members of the
Syrian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The State Department acknowledged
that it is also carrying out additional conversations with other Syrian
opposition figures and groups, but one senior official reiterated Washington’s
satisfaction with the planning carried out by the SNC.
Despite the show
of support, the State Department denied that Clinton’s Monday meeting had been
planned, together with the return of US Ambassador Robert Ford to Damascus after
a weeks-long “visit” to Washington.
State Department deputy spokesman
Mark Toner said Tuesday that Ford is “going to continue the same kind of work he
did previously, which is delivering our message of support for the Syrian
people, and trying to provide reliable reporting on the situation on the ground,
and engaging as best he can, given the limitations, with the full spectrum of
Syrian society, on how to both end the bloodshed and begin a democratic
Toner did, however, add that Clinton’s meeting and Ford’s
return “is all part of this consistent drum beat, and the message is that we
care about the Syrian people, [that] we are working with the Syrian opposition
to find ways that they can be more responsive to the Syrian people, as well as
find ways to lead this democratic transition and also that we’re putting
Ambassador Ford back because we... think he plays an effective role in calling
the world’s attention to what’s going on there."