At the National Press Club, a representative of the U.S.-backed opposition confirmed this week that they have refused to sit down and negotiate with Assad.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry reported last week
: “Though many Americans may believe -- from absorbing the mainstream U.S. news -- that it is Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad who needs to be pressured to the negotiating table, the reality is that Assad has repeatedly offered to join peace talks in Geneva. It is ‘our’ opposition that has refused to go.
“The rebel leaders have offered up a host of excuses: they want the U.S. government to provide sophisticated weapons first; they want all Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to withdraw; they want to be in a winning position before talks begin; they want Assad to agree to resign as a precondition of talks.
“In other words, the fractious rebels, whose most effective fighters are allied with al-Qaeda, don’t want peace talks; they’d rather wait for the United States and other outside powers to be drawn into the civil war and ensure Assad’s ouster, an outcome that also could make Syria the new hotbed for terrorism in the Middle East.”
Yesterday, Parry followed up
: "The Syrian rebels, already angry over the postponed U.S. military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government, appear determined to obstruct peace talks and thus may be wielding what amounts to a veto against plans to dismantle Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, a process that would be fraught with danger if there is no cease-fire.
"While it might seem counterintuitive for the rebels to undercut an international plan to eliminate the government’s poison gas, there is logic to the rebels’ position, in that their goal is the overthrow of Assad, not simply removing one category of weapon – and indeed one whose primary value may be that it makes a U.S. military intervention against Assad more likely."
On Tuesday, I questioned the Special Representative to the United States for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces Najib Ghadbian at the National Press Club
and he confirmed that the U.S.-backed rebels (as opposed to other, independent factions) are refusing to sit down with Assad [emphasis added]:
Husseini: I want to clarify something you said earlier. ... You didn't want to negotiate with the current regime of Bashar al-Assad. Can you clarify -- so -- what have been the modalities, for those coming in to this late, you folks have been refusing to negotiate up until this point? Is that accurate?
Ghadbian: No, that's not accurate.Husseini: That seems to be what you were saying.Ghadbian: Let me be very specific: We supported every political initiative to end this conflict. We supported the Arab League initiative, which begins with Assad delegating his powers to his vice president, we thought that was a good idea. We supported the elements of Geneva One. We were willing -- in fact we were working -- to go to Geneva Two. But, our understanding of Geneva One is the following: there will be a transitional government with full executive authorities, including the security and military areas, which means Assad has no role in these areas. That's our understanding of Geneva One. So, we were going to Geneva Two with this understanding. We wanted to include an element of accountability in the negotiations, in the political process. And that is why we believe Bashar al-Assad has committed crimes against humanity. And he is not acceptable as a person. We believe that his departure from the scene is a positive step for any political solution, by any means. And definitely after the use of chemical weapons, he's absolutely not acceptable. He, his brother and those who are implicated in the use of chemical weapons. Now, there are a lot of people who support Bashar al-Assad. They are Syrians. Some of them are forced to do so. Some of them are in fact under the propaganda of the regime. Some of them are defending their privileges. It's those elements, in fact, we want to talk to. Those, those are Syrians and that's what we want to talk about. So -- again -- we want a political solution that -- again -- would include some element of accountability. And -- again -- we believe Bashar al-Assad is a basically destructive element in any negotiations. So, that's the way we understand Geneva and any political solutions after the use of chemical weapons. He should, in fact, be brought to justice; preferably very soon. Any international effort by our friends at the UN should include that. Otherwise, we would not support it.Husseini: Now, just to clarify, it's not a new position -- it's been your consistent position over time -- that you will not sit down with him for negotiations, you want to sit down and negotiate with other factions.Ghadbian: Right.Husseini: Well prior to this, over the past two and a half years, you will not sit down with Bashar al-Assad --Ghadbian: Well, that position evolved. Early on -- before the regime committed atrocities on the mass scale -- early on we were, people were asking Bashard al-Assad before the revolution, to take serious, reformists steps to bring Syria into a democratic kind of conclusion. But, you know, the regime was using lethal weapons, using live munitions from day one, in Dara, remember. And so, immediately, as the regime continued, and it was obvious that the regime did not believe in a political solution, Bashar al-Assad up to the use of chemical weapons, he communicated to us, directly and indirectly, that he can achieve a military victory and he's working toward that end. He's talking Geneva, but he's not going to go to Geneva. Why should he talk about his departure Why should he talk about his stepping down? I mean, it doesn't make sense. But, I think, for us again, since the Arab League initiative, we took that position that, if he in fact were to delegate his powers -- at that point delegating powers; maybe he could stay for a while. - But as he continues to commit atrocities, crimes against humanity, against Syrian people, we were clear -- we would not negotiate with individuals who committed crimes against humanity and against the Syrian people. That's a principle position. We continue to stick by that, position.
Audio of full event below. Excerpt from above starts at 26:55:
By Sam Husseini; special thanks to Brendan Kelly.