‘Friends of Syria’ ready ultimatum for Assad
TUNIS THE United States, Europe and Arab countries were set on Friday to back a proposal for Syria’s president to step aside and allow in humanitarian assistance to end a brutal crackdown against opponents.
American, European and Arab officials are meeting in a major international “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunisia to work out the details for their 72-hour ultimatum end the violence and allow in aid, which will be backed by as yet unspecified punishments.
A draft of the conference’s final declaration also states that the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group of opposition organisations, will be recognised as “a legitimate representative of Syrians” and promised additional “practical” support for opposition groups.
“This conference will help the Syrian people, the revolutionaries, I think, they will give us the power as a national council, a political umbrella for the revolution inside Syria and I think they will push the international community to take good steps against the Syrian regime,” Haithem al- Maleh, executive director of the Syrian National Council told journalists ahead of the conference.
International action over Syria has so far been hindered by Russia and China’s continued opposition to any foreign intervention in Syria.
Both nations say they support a “speedy end” to the violence, but they have vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning Assad’s crackdown.
Alexei Pushkov, a Russian lawmaker, said on Friday after meeting Assad in Damascus that the Syrian president sounded confident and demonstrated no sign he would he step aside. Pushkov warned that arming the Syrian opposition would fuel civil war.
In a statement on Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry also called for “an immediate mutual cease-fire” to allow the wounded to be evacuated from Homs, and urged both the government and the opposition to take urgent steps to ease the humanitarian crisis. The ministry also voiced support for Annan’s mission.
Western intelligence officials, however, say they believe Russia’s patience may be running out with Syrian regime.
Tunisia’s official spokesman Adnan Mancer said Thursday that Russia and China must “look to the future of their relations with the Arab world and consider what happens after Assad.” Diplomats said the meeting in Tunis on Friday would demand Assad’s compliance.
They said that failure on his part would result in tougher sanctions and predicted that his opponents would grow stronger unless he accedes and accepts a political transition that would see him leave power.