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 "executive entity." 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 supporters.
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 weekend.
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 said.
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) KUNA 222028 Mar 13NNNN