By John Keating
PARIS, March 22 (KUNA) -- France is seeking to further burnish the image of
the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) as the only legitimate representative of
the Syrian people and a moderate opposition force capable of succeeding the
regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and bringing a semblance of stability back to
Syria, according to diplomats and officials here on Friday.
France is eager to portray the SNC as a reliable and almost "structured"
political and military force, although diplomats here admit the opposition
body still needs better organisation and a more coherent "military command
structure" in addition to "structuring" at the political level.
The appointment on Tuesday this week of Ghassan Hitto, as "interim" Prime
Minister of an opposition-led government, was viewed as a positive step in
building the political structures at the SNC, which is now seen as having an
There are also hopes here that this entity will be accepted at the Arab
League Summit, March 26-27, in Doha as the legitimate representative of Syria
in the 22-nation body.
Despite the need for more progress, diplomats here say that the SNC is
sufficiently functional to receive weapons and training that would help "shift
the power balance" in Syria and make the Damascus regime realise it cannot
militarily defeat the opposition.
They pointed out that the opposition was resisting currently despite what
was described as "waves of arms deliveries" to Al-Assad from Russia and other
Official sources in Paris indicated that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
and SNC President Moath Al-Khatib spoke on Thursday, ahead of an important
European Union informal meeting in Dublin, Ireland, "to get an overview of the
structures being built" in the SNC.
The conversation also addressed the French push, backed by Britain, to
supply weapons to the SNC-controlled fighters.
Politically, Fabius sought to boost Al-Khatib's stature and he "reaffirmed
support for the Coalition and its President" as they "prepare to speak for the
first time in the name of Syria" at the Arab League meeting.
Despite the pressure to get weapons into the hands of the SNC fighters,
diplomats stressed that France "wants a political solution to the Syrian
crisis" and that is the "main idea" behind French thinking.
But the diplomats pointed out that they did not see any sign today of a
willingness on the part of the Al-Assad regime to negotiate.
There will be "no perspectives of a political solution" if there is no help
with getting an "evolution of the balance of forces," it was remarked by the
diplomats, who requested anonymity, in a briefing.
At present there is "massive support" from a certain number of countries
who are backing the Syrian regime and it is "not acceptable" that the Syrian
population which is under bombardment is not able to "defend itself more and
better" with weapons from France and Britain.
The timetable for lifting the arms embargo, if the 27 EU members agree
"unanimously," is vague and the decision will not be made in Dublin this
The EU has already shortened the review period for the embargo from one
year to three months and the next review is due at the end of May.
But an EU decision could advance the date if there is agreement. In any
event, one diplomat told KUNA that "if we get to the end of May and there is
no prior agreement on lifting embargo, this means the EU sanctions and embargo
regime won't be renewed either beyond June 1 without unanimous agreement and
each country will do as it pleases."
Separately, Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said in that case
"the whole package" of embargo and sanctions will fall apart, "but that is not
what France wants."
Indeed, France wants action earlier than May and does not want to wait more
than two months for a decision or non-decision because of the heavy toll being
taken on civilians in the Syrian conflict and the risk of radicalisation,
which is already present.
Diplomats were also reassuring on risks that sophisticated Western weapons
could fall into the hands of radical, extremist groups of the ilk that France
is now fighting in Mali.
Radicals and extremists, both from within Syria and from abroad make up
about 10 percent of the fighters in the field against government forces and
militias, a source close to the Syria file said.
He added that there were between somewhere between 100,000-150,000 fighters
among opposition groups, "probably closer to 100,000," and upwards of 10,000
were composed of Syrian extremists and foreign fighters.
But the number of radicals is growing steadily and this is "worrying," he
The worst fear for French officials and diplomats, and the worst thing for
Syria in their view, would be a conflict pitting a bloody-minded regime
against a radicalised opposition.
The way to prevent this is to help the SNC opposition movement "with all
its components," humanitarian, political and military.
Concerning arms deliveries and how to verify they are arriving in the right
recipients, diplomats were confident that weapons could be delivered to "the
right hands" and this could be achieved through the emerging "joint military
command" at the SNC under the command of Saleem Idriss, who is in close and
"regular contact" with Paris.
Also France and its partners have carefully mapped the Syrian conflict
landscape and know which groups are operating in the different areas.
There is now "a mapping" system that is in use and it is almost updated in
real-time and has been developed over some time.
While "not perfect" it is "of high quality", it was underlined here.
Thus a better-structured military command at the SNC and this constant
evaluation of the situation on the ground should provide safe-guards against
the mistakes that took place when weapons were delivered during the Libya
campaign and got into "the wrong hands" and are being used against French
forces in Mali today. (end)
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