Syrian internal group rejects Coalition offer to join opposition delegation to Geneva II

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Antoun Issa reports:

Syria’s main internal political opposition has rejected a renewed offer by the Syrian National Coalition (SOC) to join its delegation at the Geneva II talks.

The Coalition is currently in the process of forming its delegation after it accepted participation for Geneva II as a result of the UN withdrawing its invitation to Iran.

The SOC reserved two places out of a 15 person delegation for the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), an internal umbrella organization comprised of various leftist and nationalist opposition parties.

But NCC senior official Haytham al-Manna has reiterated his organization’s refusal to participate in Geneva II.

“On Sunday, [SOC President Ahmad al-]Jarba phoned [NCC head] Hassan Abdelazim to go with him, and he said no. No one from our side will participate, our position is clear,” Manna told Al-Monitor.

Manna is a senior leader of the NCC, based in Paris, and has served as the group’s international spokesman, as all other NCC leaders are based in Damascus. Manna told Al-Monitor that he was also invited by the Coalition to Geneva II on Saturday, which he also rejected.

The NCC issued a statement on Jan. 15 stating it would not attend Geneva II, with NCC senior figure Ahmad al-Esrawi informing Al-Monitor on Jan. 14 that the NCC had not received an official invitation.

The SOC was of the belief, however, that the NCC was willing to change its position and join in its delegation.

“We know they first refused, then we thought they changed their mind,” Naim Kosayyer, SOC spokesman in Paris, told Al-Monitor.

“But now I’ve been told that this is not true, as NCC refused to participate, despite the invitation from Jarba. We don’t have more info about the reasons why they refused,” he said.

Manna was clear in his interview with Al-Monitor why the NCC rejected participation at Geneva II. Despite being a strong proponent for dialogue over the past 3 years, the NCC believes Geneva II is not the appropriate manner to reach a settlement on Syria.

“We have asked for a credible, honest, constructive dialogue between the opposition and the regime. And we are saying up to now that the solution is political, and there will not be any other kind of solution. We haven’t changed.

But there is an operation of sabotage of Geneva II, and we cannot accept it,” Manna said.

“If they [Syrian National Coalition] accept the humiliation for themselves, we won’t accept it for ourselves,” he added.

The NCC had requested certain gestures and guarantees before the start of the talks, including the release of women, children and the sick from prisons, as well as the release of all hostages kidnapped by armed factions, Manna said.

“We heard a lot of promises of these so-called Friends of Syria that they will create no fly zones, that there will be a military intervention, they said everything, they haven’t done anything,” he said.

The opposition needs to form a strong, inclusive delegation that is truly representative of the Syrian people, Manna stressed. The current delegation being formed haphazardly by the SOC falls short, in his opinion, and has only come after intense pressure from the US.

“They [Syrian National Coalition] are very weak, 67 have left the Coalition … nobody will participate with them. Not in this way.”

Manna also dismissed the hysteria over the UN’s invitation to Iran, noting that neither the Syrian National Coalition nor the Syrian regime have publicly endorsed the Geneva I communique.

“You should ask the Syrian regime first [to accept the Geneva I before Iran],” he said.

It is important to have both Saudi Arabia and Iran attend the talks, Manna added, as both are playing major roles in the Syrian war.

“We, as Syrians, have interests that Saudi Arabia participates in the Geneva talks, because we are the victims of Saudi politics vis-à-vis jihadists. We have interests in the Iranian presence because they are part of the problem. And when you are part of the problem, you must be part of the solution. What is the Syrian interest in the participation of Indonesia? This [Geneva II] isn’t serious,” he said.

The Coalition told Al-Monitor that it intends to include seven from the Coalition, three from the Free Syrian Army (including pers one from the Islamic Front), one from the Kurdish National Council and two women in the delegation. Prominent opposition figures Michel Kilo and Anas al-Abdah are expected to attend, the Coalition said in a statement to Al-Monitor.

“These people who will go, they will go to express the point of view of the Americans, not of the Syrian people. We need a delegation of the Syrian people, not a delegation of [US Ambassador to Syria] Robert Ford,” Manna said.

At the time of writing the SOC offer to the NCC remained open.

“As far as I know, the seats are still available for NCC,” Kosayyer said.

By Antoun Issa.