Syrian opposition political leaders, including Ahmed Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), came to the United Nations on July 26th to appeal for support from the UN Security Council. One of the opposition representatives, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, who was identified as the Special Representative of the Syrian Coalition to the United Nations, told reporters after his delegation’s closed door “informal” meeting with the members of the Security Council, that the opposition was supportive of the proposed peace conference that the United States and Russia are trying to organize, known as Geneva II. However, he said at a press conference hosted by the United Nations Correspondents Association that there could only be a peaceful political solution if a transitional government is created with full executive powers, including over the military and security, and such government “does not leave room for Assad in the future of Syria.”
In an effort to further delegitimize and isolate the Assad regime within the international community, the opposition delegation asked the Security Council to refer the regime to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. The opposition is also looking to take over the Syrian seat at the UN. In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya’s New York Bureau Chief Talal al-Haj, Jarba disclosed that “after taking the Syria seat in the Arab League, the SNC will go after Syria’s seat at the United Nations most likely this September.”
With respect to the subject of arms, the opposition delegation raised the issue of Russia’s supply of weapons to the Assad regime at the Security Council meeting and asked that it be stopped. The Russian UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, listened but said nothing in response to this request.
During their meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry at the United States Mission to the UN the day before, this same Syrian opposition delegation is reported to have asked the United States for weapons. Jarba, the president of the Syrian National Coalition, explained that “we need these weapons to defend our people, to defend the liberated area, because the regime is using air jets, SCUD ballistic missiles, the tanks, so the weapons that we’re asking about is the anti-air jets and anti-tanks to defend our people and to defend our cities, defend the civilians.”
While conceding that during the last three months or so the tide seems to have turned in Assad’s favor, Jarba was optimistic that, with a “new strategy” being followed in the Free Syrian Army, “within one month you will see a lot of changes on the ground.”
Aware of American concerns about any weapons the U.S. decides to send the Free Syrian Army being diverted to the much stronger jihadist fighters, Jarba said that the opposition’s Supreme Military Command has been working very hard to ensure any weapons it receives do not fall into the wrong hands. However, he offered no indication of how this could be accomplished.
Jarba tried to distance his group from what he called the extremists whom had entered Syria supposedly to fight against the regime, even going so far as to speculate that there was “some kind of agreement, we don’t know how, between the regime and the extremist groups on the ground.” Assad and his regime, he charged, “have left all the areas under control of Jihad al-Nusra and the extremist groups because we think that he is only fighting us.”
In reality, the jihadists have stopped at nothing to overthrow Assad and replace his regime with an Islamic state, including the killing of loyal members of his family and mass executions of his soldiers and civilian supporters. The possibility of any agreement between Assad and the jihadists is remote, to say the least.
Also, as recently as last December, the Syrian National Coalition welcomed help from the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group that the United States had designated as a terrorist organization. “The decision to blacklist one of the groups fighting the regime as a terrorist organization must be re-examined,” the coalition’s then leader Ahmed Moaz Khatib said at a Friends of Syria meeting.
Despite Jarba’s assurances at the United Nations, his organization is too fractured and weak to stop the jihadists’ ultimate domination of the opposition. Moreover, despite claims that his Syrian National Coalition rejects the “extremists,” his declaration cannot be trusted in light of the coalition leadership’s embrace of the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front just seven months ago.
Jarba is looking for the UN to confer recognition of his umbrella opposition group as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in place of the Assad regime. There could even be a credentials fight as early as this September for the right to occupy Syria’s seat in the General Assembly. However, even if his group succeeds at the UN, it would be a hollow, symbolic victory at best. His group is being squeezed between the Assad regime on the one hand, which is currently gaining momentum in the civil war, and the jihadists on the other hand, who have the military power to overwhelm the more “moderate” elements in Jarba’s opposition coalition if Assad is toppled.
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