US backs new Syrian opposition council in bid to unite rebels

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Syrian National Council could no longer be viewed as the 'visible leader of the opposition.' The group failed to attract broad support from Syrians. 

Members of various Syrian opposition groups seen during a press conference after three-day meetings outside Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. About 150 members of the Syrian opposition met in Turkey for three days to plan for a post-Assad future, constitutional and legal reform, laws on elections and political parties and how to build a modern national army.

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday that a key opposition group could "no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition," as Washington attempts to reorganize Syria's various opposition groups into a more representative, more effective structure.

Voice of America reports that Ms. Clinton said that Syria needs a united opposition movement that includes all of the country's ethnic groups and better represents the rebel fighters on the ground opposing President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian National Council, which established its headquarters in Istanbul and is made up largely by exiles and expatriates, is no longer capable of providing the necessary leadership, she said while on an unrelated trip to the Balkans.

"We've made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition," she said. "They can be part of a larger opposition. But that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard." ...

"This can not be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been in Syria for 20, 30, 40 years," said Clinton. "There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom."

Foreign Policy's blog The Cable reported Tuesday that such a reshuffle of the opposition by the US has been in the works for months, as both the SNC and the US have grown increasingly frustrated with the other – the former at the dearth of support offered by Washington, the latter at the SNC's inability to attract broader support from Syrians, including Alawite and Kurdish minorities. The US hopes that a new council will coalesce at a meeting of dozens of Syrian leaders next week in Doha, Qatar

"We call it a proto-parliament. One could also think of it as a continental congress," a senior administration official told The Cable. ...

"We have to get [the internal opposition] to bless the new political leadership structure they're setting up and not only do we have to get them to bless the structure, but they have to get the names on it," the official said, noting that the exact structure of the council will be determined in Qatar, not before.

"We need to be clear: This is what the Americans support, and if you want to work with us you are going to work with this plan and you're going to do this now," the official said. "We aren't going to waste any more time. The situation is worsening. We need to do this now."

The Washington Post reports that Syrian experts say the plan seems to be aimed at creation of an opposition government, though a US official said that “we’re still quite a ways from that.”

The call by Clinton to reorganize the Syrian opposition came the same day that China announced its proposal for ending the Syrian conflict through political means. Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported yesterday that Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, during a visit from United Nations envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, detailed the four-point plan, which calls for creation of a transitional government of "broad representation." It also entails a cease-fire and international humanitarian aid.

But a US official told US News & World Reports that the Chinese plan does not signal any sort of shift in Beijing's support for peace negotiations. The official noted that the plan does not give Mr. Brahimi or any other parties the leverage needed to end the violence in Syria. China has already vetoed several UN Security Council resolutions that would pressure Mr. Assad's regime to end hostilities.

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