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'Friends of Syria' to Meet in Tunis

  • Al Pessin

Officials from dozens of countries meet in Tunis Friday to coordinate efforts to support the Syrian opposition. This first meeting of the grouping called the "Friends of Syria" comes after Russia and China blocked action by the U.N. Security Council.

Months of demonstrations like this one and funerals like this one, which was attacked by Syrian troops, led to international outrage and a vote at the United Nations Security Council. The resolution would have required the withdrawal of troops from Syrian cities, the release of detainees and the start of a new political process.

But Russia and China vetoed the resolution, a frustrating end to a months-long effort to bring the international community together.

It was a victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who intensified his crackdown on demonstrators.

He is defying not just the United Nations, but also the Arab League, which is spearheading the "Friends of Syria" effort.

Russia will not attend the Tunis meeting, and China may not either. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will. “We'll send a clear message to Russia, China and others who are still unsure about how to handle the increasing violence but are up until now unfortunately making the wrong choices," she said.

Clinton wants the group to agree on more sanctions, more condemnations of the Assad crackdown, more contact with the opposition and more help for Syrians caught up in the violence.

But at least one Syrian opposition group thinks that is the wrong approach. Members of a group called "Building the Syrian State" say their country's future has become a point of competition among the big powers, without regard for the Syrian people.

The group’s leader, former political prisoner Louay Hussein, says the international community must unite to help convince President Assad to hold real transition talk. “It’s really not a matter of a softer or a tougher approach. No. What we really want is that all these blocs reach a consensus about finding a solution to the Syrian crisis," he said.

Hussein says the Tunis meeting will be mainly a propaganda exercise. But others argue there is a broad international consensus.

Thirteen countries supported the unsuccessful Security Council resolution. And the General Assembly adopted a similar, though non-binding, measure. The organizers of Friday’s meeting hope to build on that, to get concessions from Damascus, to press Russia and China to join the effort, and most importantly to stop the violence.