US calls for overhaul of Syrian opposition


ZAGREB – The United States yesterday called for a major overhaul of Syria’s opposition, saying it was time to move beyond the Syrian National Council (SNC) and bring in those who are “in the frontlines fighting and dying today”.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, signalling a more active stance by Washington in attempts to form a credible political opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, said a meeting next week in Qatar would be an opportunity to bring more people to the table and broaden the coalition against him.

“This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but who, in many instances, have not been inside Syria for 20, 30, 40 years,” Mrs Clinton said during a visit to Croatia.

“There has to be a representation of those who are in the frontlines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.”

Mrs Clinton’s comments represented a clear break with the SNC, a largely foreign-based political group which has been among the most vocal proponents of international intervention in the Syrian conflict.

US officials have privately expressed their frustration with the SNC’s inability to come together with a coherent plan and with its lack of traction with the disparate internal groups that have waged the bloody 19-month uprising against Assad’s government.

Mrs Clinton also signalled a stronger US push to help shape the face of the political opposition, noting that with increasing sectarian tensions it was important that the next rulers of Syria were both inclusive and committed to rejecting extremism.

“There needs to be an opposition that can speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria. And we also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution,” she said.

Syria’s revolt has cost an estimated 32,000 lives, and violence continues unabated. A bomb hear a Shia shrine in a suburb of the capital, Damascus, killed at least six more people yesterday.

The meeting next week in the Qatari capital, Doha, represents a chance to forge a new leadership, Mrs Clinton said, adding that the United States had helped to “smuggle out” representatives of internal Syrian opposition groups to a meeting in New York last month to argue their case for inclusion.

“We have recommended names and organisations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure,” Mrs Clinton told a news conference.

“We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice which must be heard.”

The US and its allies have struggled for months to build a credible opposition coalition, saying this is a crucial step in any plan which they say must eventually see Assad removed from power.

But repeated attempts at opposition unity have been frustrated, while critics accuse the US and other western powers of not acting decisively enough to prevent further bloodshed. – (Reuters)