25 February 2012

Tunisia: Foreign Minister Concludes Friends of Syria Pointing to Consensus Among Delegates

Photo: La Presse
Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki (file photo).

As the inaugural summit of the Friends of Syria conference drew to a close, Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Rafik Abdessalam took to the stage to address reporters' inquiries regarding the day's developments.

Abdessalam confirmed that the various international delegations - hailing from over 70 different countries - were able to reach a consensus that the primary goal of this contact group is to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria and help the Syrian people to realize an independent, democratic system of governance. He added that the group would like to defer to the authority of the Arab League in addressing this matter.

Earlier in the conference, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had shared Abdessalam's forthcoming conclusions. "Today the Friends of the Syrian People sent a strong and unified message that the Assad regime's escalating violence is an affront to the international community, a threat to regional security, and a great violation of Universal Human Rights," said Clinton. In consequence, she emphasized the urgency for the violence in Syria to end and give way to a democratic transition.

"It is very symbolic that the conference is taking place here in Tunisia, the birthplace of the revolution that has changed the political map of the region," stated Rafik Abdessalam, reiterating Tunisia's new foreign policy, perceived as revolutionary.

Though he confirmed that humanitarian, emergency assistance would be provided to Syrian humanitarian aid groups, when asked about the provision of military support Abdessalam was quick to discount this option as ill-conceived. "We have had enough failed military intervention experiences, and we don't want to repeat them...We consider the smuggling of arms in Syria as a serious threat to the stability and security in Syria." he stated.

During the summit, Clinton had detailed a US aid package that would address the mounting humanitarian crisis in Syria. "Today I announce that the United States is providing $10 million to quickly scale up humanitarian efforts including support for the thousands of refugees who are being displaced from their homes," she declared.

Regarding the recognition to the Syrian National Council (SNC) - a branch of Syria's political opposition operating primarily in exile - Abdessalam confirmed that the delegations of the summit had reached an agreement to recognize the SNC as an official representative of the Syrian people. However, he clarified that this did not mean that it is the country's sole representative - referring to the need to incorporate disparate opposition groups that represent Syria's minorities under the SNC's umbrella.

The Friends of Syria conference is part of a recent diplomatic coup against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The day before the summit, Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), was named UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, which was well received by many key players in the push to bring resolution to the Syrian revolution. "I applaud the selection of Kofi Annan as a special envoy from both the United Nations and the Arab League. He will seek to advance the positions in the Arab League transition plan and the UN General Assembly's resolution," said Clinton.

Annan's appointment comes in the wake of China and Russia's blockage of a UN Security council motion that would have condemned the violence perpetrated by the al-Assad regime. Abdessalam made overtures to the Chinese and the Russians, stating that both countries remain friends of the people of the Arab world, yet he expressed hope that the Friends of Syria would soon witness a shift in Moscow and Beijing's current policy regarding the Syrian conflict. "We hope to see a change in the Russian and Chinese's position. At first the Russian regime adopted a rigid standpoint towards the Libyan crisis, which they later changed," he stated.

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