News / Middle East

US Calls Syrian Opposition Meeting 'Positive'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)

The United States says the Syrian government's decision to allow a meeting of opposition figures in Damascus was a positive step, though much more needs to be done to open political space in the troubled country.  The State Department also said Tuesday the U.S. ambassador to Syria has begun meeting ranking Syrian officials after having been denied such contacts for weeks.

U.S. officials say there is still great skepticism about the intentions of the Syrian leadership, but that gestures in recent days suggest the political atmosphere may be easing.

The State Department welcomed as "progress" a meeting Monday in the Syrian capital of opposition figures and intellectuals, said to be the first of its kind in decades.

It said U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has met with key advisers to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in recent days after being denied such contacts for more than a month.

It also described as a "move in the right direction" the unimpeded staging of protests in a least a few Syrian towns in recent days, though others were broken up by force.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the fact opposition leaders were able to convene without interference was "progress" and "something new and important for the democratic process in Syria," though she said President Assad must go further.

"President Assad knows what has to happen in Syria if that country is going to move in the right direction," said Nuland.  "So our message to him hasn't changed and won't change. We're simply pleased to see that the opposition has been allowed some breathing space. And a key element of Syria moving in the right direction will be that that continues to be the case, and that the government begins to engage with these folks."

Nuland indicated that U.S. envoy Ford used his newly re-established contacts with senior Assad aides to intervene for opposition members, when it appeared that Monday's meeting was going to be barred.

The Syrian government said it has invited some opposition figures to join in talks July 10 to set a framework for a political dialogue promised by President Assad.

But some Syrian activists said the Monday meeting was only a media event to try to improve the image of the Assad government, which is blamed for the deaths of some 1,300 demonstrators in a violent crackdown on dissent since mid-March.

Journalist and Syria expert Andrew Tabler, a visiting fellow at Washington's Institute for Near East Policy, says those who took part in Monday's meeting were mainly older opposition figures, and not the young activists who are driving the protest movement on the ground.

Tabler also says the big question for the promised dialogue is whether Assad is really willing to discuss yielding power after 40 years of family rule.

"What exactly is on the table? Does that mean that the Assad regime is going to set up a structure where President Assad would give up the presidency? Is that it? I mean it's a security state," Tabler noted.  "Would the secret service be dismantled? I will depend on what's on the table. Talking is not enough. There has to be some kind of transition to something fundamentally different."

The Obama administration has stopped short of flatly demanding Assad's departure, saying he must implement reforms or "get out of the way."

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid