‘Friends of Syria’ Deliver Ultimatum to Assad
Meeting in Tunisia, the ‘Friends of Syria’ have prepared an early draft that would call for the Syrian government “to implement an immediate ceasefire and to allow free and unimpeded access by the UN… and humanitarian agencies.” Commenting on the ‘Friends of Syria’ proposals, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, ”we look forward to concrete progress on three fronts — providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime and preparing for a democratic transition.” While focusing on humanitarian support the draft statement also commits countries to enforce sanctions – such as travel bans, asset freezes, halting purchase of Syrian oil, and preventing arms shipments to the government – all aimed at pressuring Syrian authorities to end the violence. “We are more and more concerned over humanitarian needs that are increasing by the hour,” stated Hicham Hassan, spokesman of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
While President Bashar al-Assad‘s departure is expected, the ‘Friends of Syria’ draft gave no indication of providing military aid to the opposition with hastening Assad’s exodus. A growing concern of militarizing the Syrian opposition involves its fragmented command and control structured, with the Syrian National Council (SNC) providing limited oversight to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). ”I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Randa Slim called the FSA “the latest hope for an opposition leadership. But it remains more a collection of small disparate groups than an army.” Slim feels the A3+1 group, consisting of Tunisia, Qatar, and Iraq assisted by Turkey, working with the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, should reach out to different groups in the Syrian opposition and “bring them under one organizational umbrella and agree on a joint political and action platform.” March Lynch echoed the sentiments that arming the Syrian opposition, while it remains fragmented, is ill-advised, “providing arms to the FSA might hasten Asad’s fall, but at the cost of a far bloodier conflict, greater divisions among the opposition groups and a more difficult transition if Asad falls from power,” said Lynch. Lynch believes the “U.S. and its international partners should engage in a sustained, intense and targeted campaign of pressure against the Asad regime.”
Update: Clinton released a statement promising “$10 million to quickly scale up humanitarian efforts, including support for refugees.” Clinton emphatically called for end to the violence, while encouraging all Syrian to unite and build a sustainable democracy that is “governed by the rule of law and respects and protects the universal rights of every citizen.”
The Syrian National Council released a statement of the heels of the ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting. Seeking immediate humanitarian aid and urging steps be taken to provide “safe zones” for Syrian civilians, the SNC wishes to be recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people as a political transition plan begins.