January 20, 2014
After months of division and perceived decay, the Western-backed opposition-in-exile Syrian National Coalition announced Saturday that it would attend the Geneva II peace talks, scheduled to begin Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland.
Under heavy Western pressure to attend the conference, the SNC’s narrow decision – just 58 of 119 members voted to attend, while 44 boycotted the vote – further distanced the group from armed rebel groups inside Syria, most of whom dismiss any negotiations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as legitimizing and prolonging his rule over Syria.
But on Sunday, after United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon extended an invitation to Iran, Assad’s staunch supporter, to join the conference, the SNC immediately announced its delegation would not attend.
The quick about-face and rapid developments since have put the conference in jeopardy: At the time of publication on Monday, the SNC announced they would attend only if Iran’s invitation is rescinded before 19:00 GMT. It is not clear at this point whether the conference will even take place.
“There is no benefit from Geneva II – everyone believes that,” Hisham Marwa, a member of the Syrian Nation Coalition from outer Damascus and now based in Istanbul, tells Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri. The SNC is participating in the conference, Marwa says, “to prove the regime is not being serious about [offers to negotiate].”
Marwa explains why the conference will fail: “The regime is not coming to compromise.”
Q: Do you think the open debates and indecision inside the SNC – not agreeing on a single position toward Geneva II – will strengthen the regime in the international sphere? Does it legitimize the regime’s claims that it is combatting terrorism in Syria?
A: The disagreements inside the SNC toward Geneva II are a normal thing inside any organization. We know the regime is supporting terrorism.
The Syrian National Coalition is going to Geneva II to show the world the regime’s lie that it will hand over authority. We will expose its lies to the international community.
Q: What are you hoping for from Geneva II as SNC members and representatives of the Syrian people? Many Syrians say it is waste of time and prolonging the regime’s life.
A: As a first impression, there is no benefit from Geneva II. Everyone believes that. But the SNC is participating in the conference to prove the regime is not being serious about [offers to negotiate].
We are aware that neither the Syrian regime not its allies, the Russians and Iranians, are serious about any step for this country. Our allies and friends have the same impression toward Geneva II.
The political processes and events [thus far] confirm that it will be difficult to achieve any results at Geneva. Regarding the [argument that] the conference is a waste of time, I say it will be a political achievement.
The debate inside the Syrian National Coalition caused the impression that Geneva is a waste of time.
Q: Who will lead the team? Ahmad al-Jarba?
A: That is the initial plan. But it might change.
Q: Who is the team that will go to Geneva II from the SNC?
A: It is not yet formed; it will be formed in Istanbul. I have got no names at the moment this moment, but of course it will take into consideration all parties of the SNC, including revolutionary powers, Kurdish elements and even those who have recently withdrawn from the coalition.
Q: We have heard that the SNC has had some members withdraw, is that true?
A: Yes, some members have withdrawn. Some of them are from the National Council [an alliance within the SNC], which decided not to participate in Geneva II. The members that have withdrawn from the National Council are from the revolutionary movements and local councils.
Q: Why these sudden withdrawals?
A: There are two explanations for the withdrawal. First was Riad Hijab’s loss in the SNC’s election. The second is Geneva II. Now, we should unite our ranks, not disagree.
Q: Around a month ago, the SNC members trained in negotiating tactics in Holland to prepare for Geneva II. Do you think the SNC is technically prepared to achieve its goals?
A: Any training that has happened or will happen will not offer a lot. Political negotiations cannot be trained for in a week or a month. It might sharpen the SNC members’ skills of discussion and debate. But the regime is not coming to compromise. Even if we bring the best negotiators, the conference will not achieve any goal.
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