The 70-nation “Friends of Syria” gathering in Turkey is reconsidering comprehensive support for the armed Syrian opposition after Damascus agreed on Kofi Annan’s internationally backed peace plan.
The second meeting of the states calling themselves the “Friends of Syria” is set to pledge humanitarian and financial aid to the opposition and victims of the conflict.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave an opening address, saying Ankara has no intention of interfering in any other country’s internal policy. However, he claims that the Syrian government continues to repress the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.
A anti-Syrian government demonstration has been staged just outside the venue for the “Friends of Syria” meeting.
Erdogan stated that 20,000 Syrian people were forced to flee to Turkey because of the violence.
Those attending the Istanbul-hosted meeting are primarily concerned with making the Syrian opposition more effective. At the same time, there are concerns that arming the Free Syrian Army could spark sectarian violence in the country.
The timeline for implementing Kofi Annan’s peace plan and how exactly it is going to be carried out also tops the meeting’s agenda.
It is quite possible that the “Friends of Syria” will recognize the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the sole representative of the Syrian people. At the same time, the SNC has a myriad of internal problems to overcome. So far, beyond pledges for humanitarian and financial aid, there is not much that the Friends of Syria meeting can really offer.
Saudi Arabia together with Qatar have advocated arming the Syrian opposition for quite a long time, but the international community fears it will heat up sectarian violence in a country riven with division.
The Free Syrian Army has pleaded neighboring countries to help them acquire weapons. After meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faisal said “the arming of the [Syrian] opposition is a duty.”
Moscow, which opted not to attend the “Friends of Syria” meeting, views the gathering as one-sided and questions its ability to push for real dialogue.
There have also been charges that talks of arming the Syrian opposition do not exactly encourage the peace process in the country.
Moscow has pointed out that whatever the conference decides, it cannot speak on behalf of the international community or judge the implementation of Kofi Annan’s peace plan. Neither can it be a replacement for the UN Security Council.
This means that without the support of the UN Security Council, any substantial decisions on Syria are highly unlikely.