Julian Borger, Matthew Weaver
November 2, 2012
Britain, the US and other western powers are backing a new attempt to create a single coherent Syrian opposition that could take part in peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or, if talks fail, provide a channel for greater military support to the rebels.
The plan, to be launched in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday, will bring the external opposition together with the revolutionary councils leading the insurrection inside Syria, behind a common programme for a democratic transition. The Syrian National Initiative (SNI) will create a council of about 50 members chaired by Riad Seif, a Sunni businessman who left Syria in June after being imprisoned by the regime.
The Doha initiative has been organised by the Qatari government and has drawn support from the US, Britain and France. Russia, however, opposes the plan, arguing it reneges on an earlier international agreement to pursue the formation of a new government by “mutual consent” of the parties to the conflict. The leadership of the main exile opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has also criticised the plan, in which its influence will be diluted, and it is not yet clear which of the divided rebel forces inside Syria will turn up on Thursday, or whether they will agree on the common platform once they arrive in Doha.
“It could go as promised, or it could be a train wreck,” said Salman Shaikh, the head of the Brookings Institution Doha Centre, which had helped arrange earlier opposition discussions that paved the way for the Doha meeting.