ISTANBUL (MCT) — A U.S. decision to de-recognize a Syrian exile umbrella group and to propose a new political forum — and even who should be on it — drew an angry response from opposition figures Thursday, who charged that Washington was trying to impose its will on them while passively watching the bombardment of cities and towns by the Assad regime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the United States would no longer view the Syrian National Council “as the visible leader” of the opposition and said she had “recommended names and organizations which we believe should be included in any leadership structure.”
“The politics of the United States are very, very bad, very stupid,” said Mohammed Sarmini, spokesman for the Syrian National Council, whose 310 members represent most of the major parties and organizations in exile. “This may be an American project, but it is very offensive to the Syrian people. You should support us on the ground, not get into our politics.”
A respected Syrian scholar who heads a Washington think tank was equally critical.
“I think that no country ... can interfere or can impose the leaders on the Syrian opposition,” said Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, who’s also a Syrian National Council member. “I call on the international community to back and support the Syrian opposition groups so they can organize themselves, not to interfere in the different groups.”
The U.S. move came on the eve of a conference in Doha, Qatar, where the Syrian National Council, known as the SNC, plans to elect a new board and restructure itself, then later meet with other groups not under its umbrella and forge a common strategy. The meetings coincide with the U.S. presidential election.
Clinton said she had consulted European allies and members of the Arab League before reaching the decision, but there were signs that the Obama administration may be out of touch with Syrian exile politics.
Just as Clinton was speaking in Zagreb, Croatia, to reporters accompanying her on a two-day swing through the Balkans, Ziadeh was wrapping up a three-day conference in an Istanbul suburb where all the Syrian opposition parties reached accord on a plan leading to a transitional government.
In her remarks, Clinton disparaged the SNC as “people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years.” She called for representation of those “who are on the frontlines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.”
In fact, dozens of military and civilian personnel from inside Syria took part in Ziadeh’s conference, including representatives of “every military command, without exception,” he said. They included Abdel Rizaq Tlass, the founder of the powerful Farouk Brigade in Homs, Lt. Ammar al-Wawi, leader of the Ababil Battalion in Aleppo, and Col. Afif Suleiman, head of the revolutionary council in Idlib.
The three-day conference was said to be the biggest and most inclusive gathering of its kind. There were more than 20 officers and fighters from the armed resistance in attendance, 70 civilian activists from inside Syria, and representatives of 18 political parties and factions.
They reached accord in four major areas, the most important of which is probably the plan for a transitional government. The accord calls for an assembly of 300 Syrians, to be held inside the country if possible, to elect the government. Most of the participants would be from the inside, intended to give the legitimacy that many transitional governments do not have.