Divided Syrian opposition agrees to send delegation to peace talks

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

After a bitter debate and a walkout by more than a third of its members, Syria’s main exile opposition group voted Saturday to take part in negotiations with the government of President Bashar Assad that the U.N. is sponsoring next week in Switzerland.

Ahmed al Jarba, the president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition announced the decision in an emotional address in which he pledged not to betray the uprising that began 34 months ago and has turned into the bloodiest confrontation of the so-called Arab Spring. He promised that fighting would continue.

After “atrocities that are unprecedented in history,” the deaths of “200,000 Martyrs,” and with millions of Syrians forced to flee their homes, the opposition had decided to join the Geneva talks “to rid Syria of this criminal…to rid Syria of this tyranny,” he said.

“We will go to Geneva…with our heads held high,” he said, “not to bargain over the principles of the revolution,” adding that “We are not few in number, nor weak.”

But he made no mention of the guarantee that opposition leaders had sought to ensure that Assad would not be part of any transitional government.

Jarba, 44, also made no mention of a possible cease-fire, which the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Iran had sought to bring about before the talks begin Wednesday in Montreux, outside Geneva.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the vote “courageous” and pledged continued U.S. support for the Syrian opposition as they seek “a negotiated political transition.”

The United States will “continue to demand an end to the regime’s SCUD missiles, barrel bombs and horrific weapons used against civilians,” he said, but gave not the slightest hint that the U.S. would provide weapons to defend against such weapons.

He also said the U.S. “would keep pushing for improved humanitarian access, prisoner releases and the return of journalists and aid workers held hostage.”

The vote in the 120-member coalition was 58 to 14 with two abstentions and two spoiled ballots. Forty-four members had walked out Friday, saying they wouldn’t return to take part in a vote unless military commanders on the ground approved the decision.

With support from the Turkish government, leaders of major armed groups, including the recently formed Islamic Front and the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Council, met for two days in Ankara. They apparently did not reach a decision when they broke Saturday afternoon but they were “more and more inclined” to agree to go, a Turkish official said.

Louay Safi, a spokesman for the coalition, said coalition members consulted with the military leaders and “there are statements of support.” He also said fighting forces would have a place on the delegation.

The head of the U.S.-supported Supreme Military Council, defected Gen. Salim Idriss, said his forces endorsed going to Geneva if it guarantees a transition of the political leadership and accomplished the goals of the revolution.

Idriss said the fighters on the ground have five demands. These are Assad’s removal from power, the removal of all security branches responsible for killing civilians and destroying the country, the creation of a transitional governing council with full powers, the release of all prisoners and the immediate opening of humanitarian corridors to all the besieged areas.

Turkish officials said the principal argument made to the military leaders to attend was that the absence of the opposition from Switzerland would hurt them in the eyes of world public opinion and leave the stage to the Syrian government.

Before the vote could be held, the coalition had to finesse its own bylaws, which stipulate that its leadership would not negotiate with the Syrian government. Amending the bylaws would have required a two-thirds vote of the entire membership, which was impossible because of Friday’s walkout. Instead, the group’s legal committee ruled that a majority vote would suffice though it was not clear how the committee reached that conclusion.

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @roygutmanmcc

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Troubled Myanmar state invites back aid groups

    Authorities in Myanmar's Rakhine state say international aid organizations are welcome to return to the area they left in April after Buddhist mobs disrupted their work helping displaced Rohingya Muslims.

  • UK: Former reporter sentenced for phone hacking

    A former British tabloid reporter has been given a 10-month suspended prison sentence for hacking the phones of celebrities including model Kate Moss and James Bond star Daniel Craig.

  •  
Russian opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov, holds his belongings, and waves good-bye in a court hall prior to a hearing for the Bolotnaya square protest, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, July 24, 2014.  Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev are waiting for the sentence Thursday in the Moscow city court on charges of organizing mass riots and colluding to commit a crime. They both pleaded not guilty in a trial that has dragged on since October 2012, when they were detained and put under house arrest.

    Russian activists convicted of organizing riots

    Russian news agencies say two opposition activists have been convicted of organizing riots at the May 2012 protest in Moscow, a day before the re-election of President Vladimir Putin.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category