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Syrians brand world talks on crisis a failure

July 02, 2012

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) sits next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague (4th R), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (3rd R), and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (2nd R) at the start of a crisis meeting on Syria at the United Nations office in Geneva, on June 30, 2012. World powers began a crisis meeting on Syria aimed at salvaging international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan to end 16 months of bloodshed and chart a transition plan for the strife-torn country.  AFP
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) sits next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague (4th R), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (3rd R), and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (2nd R) at the start of a crisis meeting on Syria at the United Nations office in Geneva, on June 30, 2012.   —Photo by  AFP

DAMASCUS: The opposition and state media on Sunday both branded an international plan for a transition in strife-torn Syria a failure, as the death toll for a weekend of violence topped 140.

World powers meeting in Geneva on Saturday agreed that the transition plan could include current regime members, but the West did not see any role for President Bashar al-Assad in a new unity government.

Russia and China insisted that Syrians themselves must decide how the transition takes place, rather than allow others to dictate their fate. Moscow and Beijing, which have twice blocked UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, signed up to the final agreement that did not make any explicit call for Assad to cede power.

Official Syrian media and the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) group demonstrated rare agreement in slamming the outcome. The meeting “failed,” trumpeted Al-Baath, newspaper of the ruling party of the same name.

“The agreement of the task force on Syria in Geneva on Saturday resembles an enlarged meeting of the UN Security Council where the positions of participants remained the same,” it said.

The LCC, which organises protests on the ground in Syria, said the outcome showed once again a failure to adopt a common position.

It called the transition accord “just one version, different in form only, of the demands of Russian leaders allied to the Assad regime and who cover it militarily and politically in the face of international pressure.”

Burhan Ghalioun, a senior member and former head of the opposition Syrian National Council, told pan-Arab television Al-Arabiya that “this is the worst international statement yet to emerge from talks on Syria.”

According to the SNC's official Facebook page, he described the plan as a “farce.”Ghalioun called a “mockery” the notion that Syrians should negotiate with “their executioner, who has not stopped killing, torturing... and raping women for 16 months.”

SNC spokeswoman Basma Qadmani, however, told AFP in Ankara there were some “positive elements” in the deal, although “important elements remain too ambiguous... and the plan is too vague to foresee real and immediate action.”

“The first one is that the final declaration says that the participants agree to say that the Assad family cannot rule the country any more, and therefore the Assad family cannot lead the transition period.”

“The second positive element is the agreement that the transition should comply with the legitimate aspirations of Syrian people.|For us this means that Assad should go because Syrian people have already said that they want Assad to go.”

Iran, a strong ally of Assad, said the Geneva meeting was “unsuccessful”because Damascus and Tehran were not invited.

“This meeting was unsuccessful... because Syria was not present and some influential nations were not present,” an Iranian deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdolahian, told state television.

The United States and European nations reportedly opposed the presence of Iran, although UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and UN chief Ban Ki-moon had wanted Tehran to attend.

Opposition to meet in Cairo, asks US for support

Opposition groups are to hold a two-day meeting in Cairo from Monday and are also expected to meet on Tuesday with Arab ministers in a bid to agree on a shared platform, Egyptian media and the Arab League said.

The Geneva deal came despite initial pessimism over the talks amid deep divisions between the West and China and Russia on how to end the violence that the Observatory says has killed more than 15,800 since March 2011.

In weekend violence, more than 140 people were killed across Syria, including 120 on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. On Sunday, at least 21 people were killed, including five in the central province of Hama.

Annan said on Saturday it was up to the Syrians to decide who they wanted in a unity government.

But he added: “I would doubt that Syrians... would select people with blood on their hands to lead them.”The United States and France both said it was clear there was no future role for Assad.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague admitted the deal was a “compromise agreement” as Russia played up the fact that it had convinced other world powers that it would be “unacceptable” to exclude any party from the transition.

Moscow is loath to cast aside its ally Assad, even as relations between them have cooled.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “How exactly the work on a transition to a new stage is conducted will be decided by the Syrians themselves.

“There are no demands to exclude from this process any one group.

This aspect had been present in many of our partners' proposals. We have convinced them that this is unacceptable.”German Foreign Guido Westerwelle said it now remained to be seen how “Russia actually uses its influence in Damascus to end the violence and allow a genuine start to negotiations.”

Syria's opposition says the United States must overcome its fear of extremists among the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, and start arming the resistance movement to show it wants the entire ruling elite removed.

Islamists are among the most effective fighters against the Syrian leadership, some opposition figures said, and Washington needs to know that while these rebels are conservative Muslims they are a far cry from Afghan-style jihadi militants.

Frustration is growing that the United States will not supply weapons to the rebels, who have largely used small arms during the 16-month uprising against Assad and a state apparatus dominated by members of his Alawite minority.

“We have been kissing the hand of the United States and the rest of the world for the 16 months to intervene. Now, after Assad spared no one in Syria, the United States is surprised that al Qaeda may be operating in the country,” veteran opposition campaigner Fawaz al-Tello said from Istanbul.

Opposition campaigners and Free Syrian Army commanders said the rebels need weapons such as shoulder-fired missiles to destroy the tanks and bring down the helicopters that Assad is using against the uprising. Washington could anyway supply parts of the diverse rebel movement which are more to its liking.

“The US has intelligence on the ground and by clever management it can channel weapons to the right people. First it has to give a clear signal that it really wants an end of the Alawite-dominated police state in Syria and not just the sidelining of Bashar,” said Tello, speaking from Istanbul.

So far the United States has supplied almost negligible amounts of “non-lethal” aid such as walkie-talkie radios trickling across the Lebanese border, opposition figures said.

Officials have made clear Washington opposes arming the rebelsbecause they lack a unified command and due to concerns that high-tech weapons may fall into the hands of Islamists.

Mohaimen al-Rumaid, a member of the Syrian Rebel Front, said Washington was failing to recognise that the country's Islamist rebels were different from the Taliban fighting Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, and that they were not anti-American.

“The Americans have not come to terms with the fact that Islamist elements are among the most effective fighters in Syria and that they are not militant or jihadist in the Afghan sense.

Syrians have always been conservative Muslims, but not militant,” he said.

US intelligence officials have said weapons funded by sympathisers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are crossing the Lebanese border to the rebels. These are mostly small arms such as AK-47 automatic weapons plus some anti-tank guided munitions and rocket-propelled grenades.