EU takes step toward recognition of dissident Syria council
EU countries have lent international credibility to the Syrian National Council (SNC) but stopped short of recognising it as a replacement for the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Foreign ministers in a joint communique in Luxembourg on Monday (10 October) said the bloc "welcomes the efforts of the political opposition to establish a united platform. It calls on the international community also to welcome these efforts. In this regard, the EU notes the creation of the Syrian National Council as a positive step forward."
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Italy's Franco Frattini went further, encouraging the group to come out with a plan for what it would do if Assad falls.
"Many, many countries in the world have not yet sufficient knowledge about who [the SNC] are. We would very much like to have programmes if possible, roadmaps. What is very clear is that we cannot any longer accept the Syrian government, which is killing ordinary Syrians. We would very much like to have some alternative proposals, which should be frankly discussed at the level of the international community," he said.
The foreign ministers of France and the UK, which led the Nato cavalry charge into Libya, confirmed they are holding meetings with the council. Sweden's Carl Bildt noted: "We are talking with them, obviously, as well as we are talking to others who have the possibility of influencing events in Syria."
The SNC is an Istanbul-based group of Syrian exiles and expats launched on 2 October. It is currently led by Burhan Ghalioun, a Paris-based academic liked by Western capitals for his secularist and pro-democratic views, but also contains members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a regional Islamist movement. It is putting together a 29-person secretariat and has "co-ordination committees" that organise protests inside the country.
The EU and the US have already said that President Assad has lost legitimacy and should step down, while British and French military analysts say strikes against Syria are technically feasible.
Nato countries have in the past ruled out Libya-type military intervention because they say that there is no UN mandate, however, and because the opposition movement until now had no leadership structures capable of running the country in a post-Assad scenario.
The Assad regime sees the SNC as a threat. "We will adopt strict measures against any country which will recognise the illegitimate council," Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem told the state news agency, Sana, on the eve of the EU's Luxembourg meeting.
For its part, Russia has for the past three months blocked French and UK-backed draft UN Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian authorities on the grounds that any UN text could be exploited by Nato to launch military strikes.
Russia's Nato ambassador, Dmitry Rogozin, in an interview with Russian daily Izvestia in August said Nato military planning on Syria is already "well underway." He added that a Western campaign to topple Assad is a prelude to regime change in Iran, Syria's neighbour and ally, and the main threat to Israeli military superiority in the region.
"The noose around Iran is tightening," Rogozin said.