UNITED NATIONS — Syria’s main opposition coalition will soon open an office in New York City, not far from the United Nations.
According to University of Arkansas professor Najib Ghadbian, new Syrian opposition representative to the United States, the opposition is interested in pursuing a political solution to the nearly two-year old conflict with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“The main objective of the office is to be present in New York, to be a source of information and communication with the different [U.N.] missions," he told VOA by phone from Washington, describing it as an important step for the opposition coalition, which is recognized as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people by 114 countries. "To work with the different organs and agencies of the U.N. that are handling Syria, that includes organizations like OCHA, UNICEF, and definitely to pursue Syria’s seat at the U.N. as well.”
Ghadbian, who hails from a suburb of Damascus and has been in the United States for years, says that with diplomatic recognition comes the issue of representation, and that the move is one way the coalition hopes to enhance its position as the sole, legitimate representative of the Syrian people and further de-legitimize the regime of President Bashar al Assad.
The coalition will be funding the office in New York, as well as one in Washington, DC, from the group’s general budget. The U.S. government has expressed its support for both offices.
The United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have died during the nearly two-year conflict and millions more have been displaced inside Syria or become refugees. Ghadbian says the opposition coalition understands the need for a political settlement to end the suffering.
“We need to end the bloodshed; we need to end the killing; we need to try to make sure that political prisoners are released, and that was one element of the al-Khatib initiative," he said, referring to the recent offer from Syrian opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib to open talks with Assad’s vice president in a bid to end the fighting. "Because, again, Syrians have already sacrificed so much and I think it is time to try to explore ways to end this conflict.
While there has been no direct government response to al-Khatib's offer, Syria's information minister said last week that the opposition was welcome to come to Damascus to discuss Syria's future, as long as it met Assad's call for an unspecified national dialogue.
Ghadbian says that the opposition has no objection to speaking with regime supporters, just as long as they do not have blood on their hands.
“We want to tell them we have no quarrel with them," he said. "They are going to be part of the future of Syria. Really, our main quarrel is with those who committed crimes against humanity in Syria, against the Syrian people.”
Ghadbian says the opposition coalition wants to see a political transition that does not include President Assad, and takes the least toll on the Syrian people and their country.