Syrian Opposition Gets Recognition; Fight Rages On
Russia's foreign minister criticizes the U.S. decision to recognize the rebel coalition
Michael Pearson CNN
December 12, 2012(CNN) -- Syria's newly formed opposition coalition won recognition from international supporters Wednesday in Morocco.
It wasn't clear the designation by the Friends of Syria group would have any immediate impact on the 21-month-long civil war that has ravaged Syria, and it did little to soothe opposition leaders stung by U.S. President Barack Obama's decision Tuesday to list one rebel group as a terrorist organization.
Opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib urged the United States to rescind its decision to list the al-Nusra organization as a terrorist group and impose sanctions on its leaders, saying the coalition rejects radical violence.
The Friends of Syria group, representing more than 100 countries and organizations, agreed Wednesday to recognize the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.
The declaration immediately broadens international acceptance of the coalition, which formed under al-Khatib in November at the urging of international leaders who hoped to see a more organized and unified Syrian opposition.
Previously, several Arab and European states, including France and the United Kingdom, had recognized the group.
The United States sent Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to the Friends of Syria meeting, which came a day after Obama said his administration had decided to grant recognition to the coalition.
"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," he told ABC's Barbara Walters.
At the Morocco meeting, Burns told Syrian rebel leaders that their newfound recognition is freighted with the weight of international expectations.
"This leadership comes with real responsibilities," he said, according to a transcript posted on the State Department's website. "We look to the coalition to continue creating more formal structures within the opposition and to accelerate planning for a democratic political transition that protects the rights, the dignity, and the aspirations of all Syrians and all communities. That means taking concrete steps to include women and minorities; engage with religious leaders and civil society; and discourage reprisals and inter-communal violence."
Burns said the United States will provide $14 million for emergency medical care and to supply Syrians to live through the coming winter, including plastic insulation, boots and nutritional supplies.
Obama's announcement is a "political shot in the arm for the Syrian opposition, Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria and a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, said Tuesday.
"And it's hoped that by doing that, it will straighten their backs and strengthen them and encourage them to come together and work together more effectively," he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was "somewhat surprised" by Obama's decision.
Lavrov said an agreement he had worked out in Geneva with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out a path for a negotiated transfer of power, but he said the new coalition's goals call for it to ""overturn the regime, dismantle government institutions and refuse dialogue with the Syrian government."
"We inquired with our American partners as to how that conforms with the logic of the Geneva communique, and they told us that the most important thing is to unite the opposition, and its platform can, quote, 'be corrected,'" Lavrov said.
As the diplomatic talks were going on in Morocco, violence continued in Syria.
State TV showed images of an explosion outside the Interior Ministry in Damascus, saying it was the result of a car bomb that killed or wounded an unspecified number of people.
The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said at least 10 people had died in fighting Wednesday, including two children. The group said government warplanes struck at targets in the suburbs of Damascus as rebels and government forces clashed nationwide.
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