Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting representatives of the Syrian National Council in Geneva, December 6, 2011. (Photo: Eric Bridiers /US State Department/Flickr)
As the death toll from the Syrian uprising continues to climb, opposition groups are striving to speak with one voice. IWPR contributor Poppy McPherson talks to Bassma Kodmani, the spokesperson for the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, about its current views on ending the conflict.
In the past there has been talk of agreeing a 'roadmap' solution with the Syrian government. Where are those discussions now?
The idea of the roadmap has been there from the beginning. At the council, we developed a number of scenarios for the transition period, knowing that the big challenge is a peaceful transition. We left that discussion for a while, because we knew that our suggestions would have stronger legitimacy if they came after we united the parts of the opposition.
The shift happened when Arab leaders decided, weeks ago now, to take a number of measures – suspension of Syria [from the Arab League] and demands to] stop the security forces killing immediately, deploy observers, and obtain sanctions.
When that became the feeling for the Arab League, opposition groups felt that continuing to explore the option of dialogue with the regime was irrelevant.
For us, it has always been clear that what we want is the fall of the regime.
What is the Syrian National Council’s current focus?
The council is now very large; small groups are joining under this political objective.
Now we are developing a joint plan, which will be one plan from the Syrian opposition to be presented to the Arab League and to the wider world, to say, “We know that as Syrians we need to develop a vision and tell you exactly what we want.”
We are currently developing a joint committee working on different papers, to give the [international community] one paper looking at areas of possible disagreement, discussing those and unifying them so we have one plan.
What have the main areas of disagreement within the council been?
There were two main areas of disagreement. One was whether the president should step down as a start, to trigger the process, or whether that should come later. We are now in agreement – the transition can only start after he steps down; all other measures will happen afterwards.
The other was on agreeing to any foreign intervention. We [now] call for the protection of civilians: and we consider that the protection of civilians is something the Arab world, regional powers - Turkey in particular – and the international community should look at to see what measures should be deployed.
Does this include a no-fly zone?
We are not [calling] for a no-fly zone just now. We aren't excluding it, but other options have not been explored, and between doing nothing and having a no-fly zone there are a range of measures that should be discussed.
Which other measures would you advocate?
We can have safe areas – border areas can be used for humanitarian assistance. The political position is to say, “Please explore all options, and we are ready to discuss those with you because we do want the protection of civilians and it is the role and responsibility of the international community to help.”
If we [need to] enter into discussion about what forms this protection of civilians can take, we are willing to do this.
Other groups [in the opposition] might think we want foreign intervention, bombing Damascus and so on. This is not the position.
Poppy McPherson is an IWPR contributor in London.
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