The Friends of Syria group wrapped up its second conference in Istanbul with a list of recommendations and declarations, but with few concrete decisions.
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Representatives of the 70-plus nations comprising the group decided to recognize the Syrian National Council, the largest opposition body, as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the opposition as a whole. However, the group did not recognize the National Council as the only organization that could serve as a temporary government, much to the chagrin of National Council head Burhan Ghalioun.
Among the 27 resolutions contained in the Friends of Syria declaration are clauses stating that the member nations will provide financial support for opposition activities. Member nations in the gulf have already pledged tens of millions of dollars in support, to assist the opposition in paying salaries for soldiers and officers that defected from the Syrian Army, as well as to create a stable economic foundation for continuing opposition efforts.
However the nations that attended the conference stopped short of supplying the opposition with arms, with a general declaration claiming that every member nation should do everything in its power to support the political activities of the opposition and to help bring about a regime change in Syria.
The council also called for putting a halt to all support for the Syrian government, with an emphasis on weapons and ammunitions. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed that Turkey stopped an Iranian shipment carrying Turkish chemicals to Syria. When asked for an explanation, Iran claimed that the chemicals being shipped to Syria were for agricultural purposes. Edrogan said in response: “But we know that it is possible to make chemical weapons out of materials meant for agriculture.” Edrogan declared that he will not join in any plans to continue supporting Bashar Assad, though he did not offer any plan of action to displace the Syrian leader.
The nations attending the conference also decided to create a fund for the rehabilitation of Syria, to act if and when a regime-hange in Syria was to take place. Germany and the United Arab Emirates will lead theses efforts.
However, the declaration by the Friends of Syria, which excludes Russia, China, and Iran, did not include any calls for Assad to step down, nor any kind of timeframe for future activity. The declaration includes hints of further sanctions that could be placed on Syria, if it does not quickly adopt UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, the focus of which is a proposed two-hour daily ceasefire to allow for civilians to receive basic goods and aid. However, the Syrian government has already stated that it will not be the first one to lay down arms, and does not seem to be bothered by the criticism by the Friends of Syria group; by Saturday night, nearly 60 people were killed as a result of the conflict.
The Istanbul conference is an important step in yet another attempt to bring the Syrian issue before the Security Council, or at least presents an alternative for international action outside of a UN framework. The effectiveness of this alternative still needs to be proven, after Annan presented a report to the UN on Monday containing the findings of his visit to Syria. However, the failure of the Friends of Syria to produce a timetable for upcoming steps illustrates a lack of consensus between the friends themselves, as well as a lack of consensus between the Friends of Syria and Syrian opposition groups as to the steps necessary to force Assad into changing his policy, or more accurately, forcing him to step down.