Syria’s opposition is softening its position on negotiations with the Assad regime, reports suggest.
Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition coalition, today expressed a willingness for the first time to talk with government representatives.
“In his surprise turnabout, al-Khatib said he was willing to talk with representatives of Assad’s regime ‘in Egypt, Turkey or Tunisia’ on condition the government releases tens of thousands of political prisoners and renews all expired passports held by Syrians abroad — a reference to exiled opposition leaders and activists,” AP reports:
There was no immediate government response to the comments by al-Moaz, a 52-year-old preacher-turned-activist chosen to head the coalition as a unifying figure. Al-Moaz’s statements, posted on his Facebook page, were later taken down and replaced by another posting in which he clarified he would be negotiating a transitional phase “to prevent more bloodshed” and asserting that he was expressing his personal opinion.
The Syrian National Council, the largest group in the coalition, said al-Khatib’s statements do not reflect the position of the coalition, which refuses to negotiate with a “criminal regime.”
But in a pre-emptive strike at dissenters, al-Khatib criticized “those who sit on their couches and say … do not negotiate. We don’t negotiate about the regime remaining, but for its departure at the lowest cost in blood and destruction.”
“The key to ending the deadly stalemate actually lies with Russia, long the main foreign operator in the country,” says a prominent activist-analyst.
“When anti-western feeling ran high among the Arab people in the 1950s and 1960s, the region’s leading nations – Egypt and Syria foremost among them – enhanced their legitimacy by building strong ties with Moscow and creating a strategic distance from the west,” writes Bassma Kodmani, a former head of foreign relations in the Syrian National Council:
But Russia’s military support and diplomatic protection of the regime of Bashar al-Assad is overriding these memories. For almost two years, the Syrian opposition has been asking: “Why does Russia need to rely on a criminal clique when the majority of our population and political elites could be supportive of a close co-operative relationship with Moscow?”
The opposition does not favour a military outcome. It will explore every possibility to end the people’s ordeal; to salvage the nation, society and the institutions of the state; and to restore sovereignty.
Kodmani cautions that Syria’s people “do not want their revolution to be hijacked by any one force or group from inside or outside,” a thinly-veiled reference to the radical Islamist groups that have marginalized mainstream secular and democratic forces within the opposition.
“Russia should listen carefully to the Syrian people; their message is simple and clear,” writes Kodmani, director of the Arab Reform Initiative:
They want their freedom and they will earn it sooner or later. Moscow should look out for those who were its friends and could once again be its partners and allies. These voices need to be offered some prospect of success. They should not be pushed into the arms of the west, which pursues its own interests. Mr Assad is a liability for Russia. With the Syrian people, Moscow can turn the dark page of this regime.