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Gulf Nations to Pay Syrian Rebel Salaries, US Offers Non-Lethal Support

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses participants of the
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses participants of the "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul April 1, 2012.
Dorian Jones

More than 70 Western and Arab countries have announced new measures to isolate Syria's government, while calling for the country's opposition to unify.  Delegates at the gathering also said several Gulf states pledged millions of dollars to help pay the salaries of rebels trying to overthrow Syria's leader.

Much of the discussion at the one-day Friends of Syria meeting focused on U.N. special representative Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan to end the Syrian conflict.

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's stated support for the initiative. "Nearly a week has gone by since the regime pledged to implement Koffi Annan's plan.  Rather than pulling back, Assad's troops have [launched] new assaults.  Rather than allowing access for humanitarian aid they have tightened their siege.  Rather than beginning a political transition the regime has crushed dozens of peaceful protests.  We can only conclude that Assad has decided to add to his long list of broken promises," she said.

Kofi Annan's Six-Point Peace Plan

  • A Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.
  • A U.N. supervised end to armed violence by all parties in Syria.
  • Timely humanitarian assistance in all areas affected by fighting.
  • Increasing the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained people.
  • Ensuring freedom of movement for journalists.
  • Respecting freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully.

A 27-point communique' released by the meeting called for a timeline for Annan's efforts to resolve the crisis.  Annan is to report Monday to the U.N. Security Council.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it should be a matter of weeks, rather than months, in determining whether Annan's efforts were succeeding.  Juppe also said the Friends of Syria were taking steps to tighten sanctions against the regime.

"To coordinate those sanctions and to check they are really implemented on the ground and we are also to try to convince the other members of the Friends of Syria to implement those sanctions.  Sanctions against the people involved in the oppression, but also the freeze of financial assets of the central bank oil embargo and other sanctions of that kind," he said.

The leaders of the opposition Syrian National Council also attended the meeting, and the communique' praised the group's efforts to unify the opposition.  But the Friends pressed the SNC to do more.  Throughout the week it has been meeting with other opposition groups, but divisions remain.

The SNC leadership said it is considering another meeting in the coming weeks to work towards greater unity, both Istanbul and Cairo are suggested venues.  

The Friends of Syria meeting recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of Syria and an interlocutor.  But the recognition fell short of the SNC demand to be declared the sole legitimate representative of Syria.

According to SNC spokesperson Basma Kodami another disappointment was the meeting's failure to address delivering humanitarian aid to Syrians in Syria.

"I think we were expecting, and the Syrians inside Syria, were expecting concrete measures, for the opening of access for humanitarian aid to reach the population.  So we have been asking for humanitarian access through safe passages to the worst effected areas.  We have been asking for safes zones.  We know these are difficult for the countries develop ... nevertheless we do not see there is an alternative," he said.

But several Western diplomatic sources said there is little enthusiasm to directly intervene into Syria.  Such a step, the sources say, could undermine Annan's efforts to resolve the crisis, which all attending the meeting said they supported, even though deep skepticism remains over whether those efforts will be successful.

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