Syrian Rebels Seek Unity, Support (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By NOUR MALAS in Dubai and JOE PARKINSON in Istanbul 03/27/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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Syrian opposition activists gathered in Istanbul to endorse a
blueprint for political change intended to unify their movement, but
the conference proved divisive even before its official start on
The planned agreement, to be signed Tuesday, follows a flurry of
efforts by the opposition Syrian National Council to win
international confidence for efforts to oust President Bashar al-
Assad. Dissidents are trying to present a more united face ahead of a
meeting Sunday of the Friends of Syria, a contact group that brings
together representatives from 70 countries and the United Nations.
A rival to the SNC boycotted the meeting, while other opposition
groups complained that hosts Turkey and Qatar were undermining the
work of a separate U.N.-Arab League effort to end the crisis.
That initiative, led by envoy Kofi Annan, has moved on a separate
track from the Friends of Syria, which was formed to work around the
U.N. where Russia and China were blocking moves against the Assad
Mr. Annan´s initiative is focused on negotiating with Syria´s
government on a six-point plan to end the violence. The plan doesn´t
address a call adopted by the first Friends of Syria meeting for Mr.
Assad to step aside.
The Annan plan was endorsed by the U.N. Security Council last week
with the consent of Russia and China. Mr. Annan is studying a Syrian
response to the plan, and will answer shortly, said Mr. Annan´s
spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi. Mr. Annan will be represented by his deputy
at the Friends of Syria meeting, Mr. Fawzi said.
The Syrian regime´s violent crackdown on opposition has lasted over a
year, and left more than 9,000 dead according to the U.N.—the longest
and deadliest confrontation in the Arab Spring of pro-democracy
Mr. Annan on Monday raised the possibility of U.N. observers entering
Syria to enforce an agreement. He said that he hoped the hostilities
could cease very shortly, and in that case, "We will have to be on
the ground to monitor and ensure that all sides are respecting the
Mr. Annan was speaking in Moscow after meetings with Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, before
departing for China. "I had very strong support here in Moscow" for
the six-point plan and expects similar in China, he said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council, which was formed in
September, is seeking recognition as the sole representative of the
opposition and, eventually, the only legitimate representative of the
Syrian people. The SNC was recognized in February as a leading
representative of the Syrian people at the first Friends of Syria
meeting, and the U.S., EU, and some Arab states have for months dealt
with the group as the main opposition vehicle.
But the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change—the second-
broadest opposition coalition—on Monday said it wouldn´t attend the
meeting in Istanbul, calling it "an effort to politically manipulate
the Syrian opposition and to cram it under one ceiling of options."
The SNC´s ability to demonstrate unity and win popular support is
necessary for international states to move forward in their efforts
to aid the opposition, officials said.
"We are giving them a firm, stable consistent message that they have
to take on board everybody so that they represent every walk of
society in Syria," a Turkish official said.
Arab and Western officials characterized the SNC´s blueprint, known
as the "National Covenant for a New Syria," as an effort to focus on
forging a unity of vision, rather than structure, in the opposition.
The documentfocuses on free and fair elections in a transitional
period, the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and
minority rights. Syria´s ethnic Kurds are wrangling to be named in
the pact, opposition members said.
Turkey´s efforts to inject fresh momentum into shoring up the
opposition underlines how Ankara, an erstwhile ally of Mr. Assad, has
become frustrated with the situation in neighboring Syria. Ankara on
Monday said it closed its embassy in Damascus, but is keeping its
consulate in Aleppo open.
Turkey has regeared its policy to bolster the SNC, analysts
said. "The fear now is that the SNC is losing strength and becoming
more fragmented," said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat now at
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Ankara and its
allies are trying to essentially help SNC to unite and not to
Turkey and the U.S. said Sunday they are considering providing
communications equipment to help Syria´s opposition and rebel
fighters coordinate. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking after a meeting in Seoul,
said the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul would discuss other
nonlethal aid the U.S. could supply.
—Carol E. Lee and Christopher Rhoads contributed to this article
(Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 03/27/12)
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