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Saturday, February 16, 2013
Syrian National Coalition Sets Guidelines for Assad Talks

Syrian National Coalition Sets “Guidelines” for Assad Talks
15/02/2013 Asharq Al-Awsat
http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=1&id=32911

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—According to a high-level Syrian National Coalition
member, the Syrian opposition umbrella group is prepared to negotiate a
departure for President Bashar al-Assad with any member of his government
who has not participated in the violent crackdown against the revolution.
Syrian National Coalition president Moaz Alkhatib had initially expressed
his readiness to talk to representatives of the Assad regime on condition
that they release 150,000 prisoners and issue passports to tens of thousands
of displaced Syrians. This proposal, formulated without consulting the
coalition, initially draw sharp criticism from the opposition’s exiled
leadership in Cairo. Alkhatib has also lately met with Iranian Foreign
Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and US
Vice President Joe Biden, seeking an end to the Syrian crisis.

The Syrian National Coalition leadership’s position towards Alkhatib’s
initiative softened after it became clear that there would be no
negotiations with Bashar al-Assad directly, or any member of the Syrian
regime with blood on their hands.

Following an overnight meeting of the coalition’s 12-member politburo in
Cairo, the opposition leadership endorsed Alkhatib’s initiative, but set
guidelines for any potential peace talks. These guidelines are set to be
presented for approval to the full 70-member Syrian National Coalition
assembly on Thursday.

Syrian National Coalition politburo member Walid Bunni told Reuters, “We are
willing to negotiate with any civilian official the removal of Bashar and
the end of despotism.” He stressed that Assad and his cohorts in Syria’s
military and intelligence apparatus cannot be part of any future
negotiations.

He said, “Bashar and his cohorts will not be party to any talks. We will not
regard those present from the government’s side as his representatives.”

However Bunni did concede that members of Assad’s Baathist Party, which has
ruled Syria since 1963, can participate in the proposed talks if “their
hands are clean of blood.”

In the first direct government response to proposed talks, Syria’s national
reconciliation minister Ali Haidar said that he was prepared to travel
abroad to meet Alkhatib. He said, “I am willing to meet Mr. Alkhatib in any
foreign city where I can go in order to discuss preparations for a national
dialogue.”

Haidar told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that “dialogue is a means to
provide a mechanism for reaching free parliamentary and presidential
elections. This is one of the subjects which will be discussed at the table.
Such a thing could be the result of negotiations, but not a precondition.”
However he also stressed that “we reject a dialogue that is just to hand
power from one side to another.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar
Barahimi both called on the UN Security Council to respond positively to
Alkhatib’s offer of talks. Speaking to the press in Washington on Thursday,
Ban Ki-Moon said, “Brahimi and I are calling (on) the Security Council to be
united and speak and act in one voice.”

He added, “We support the initiative by Moaz Alkhatib, head of the Syrian
National Coalition, for dialogue with Syrian authorities. This is an
opportunity we should not miss.”

These developments come as the United Nations reported that approximately
40,000 people fled a town in eastern Syria after three days of heavy clashes
between troops loyal to Syrian president Assad and rebels seeking to topple
his government.

Reports indicate that Syrian rebels seized the town of al-Shaddadeh in
Syrian on Thursday following fighting which resulted in the deaths of some
30 rebels and more than 100 Syrian soldiers.

"A WFP (World Food Programme) team visited the area and estimated that
around 40,000 people have fled al-Shaddadeh to al-Hasakah city (the regional
capital)," the U.N. agency told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

WFP spokesperson Elizabeth Byrs revealed that there are high rates of
malnutrition among children in the region, particularly as north-eastern
Syria was hit by four years of drought before the uprising against President
Assad, which is approaching its second year.

She said, “The fighting and displacement only aggravates the misery of these
people" adding that the WFP has sent extra rations to the area this week to
help alleviate the people’s suffering.

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