What will recognizing the opposition accomplish?
Participants pose for a group picture during a meeting to form a new Syrian opposition group called the National Coalition of Forces of the the Syrian Revolution and Opposition in the Qatari capital Doha on November 11, 2012.
December 11th, 2012
03:32 PM ET

What will recognizing the opposition accomplish?

By Jill Dougherty

President Barack Obama on Tuesday recognized the leading Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the country's people, marking a "big step" in U.S. engagement with the nearly two-year-old crisis.

"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama told ABC's Barbara Walters.

"So we will provide them recognition and obviously with that recognition comes responsibilities on the part of that coalition," he said. "It is a big step."

The United States joins Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council in recognizing the opposition.

The move will be a major psychological boost for the rebels, but it doesn't mean Washington will be arming them anytime soon.

The U.S. announcement had been anticipated to occur at some point this week with a major meeting of governments supporting a transition away from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad scheduled.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was supposed to attend the Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco along with more than 100 delegations from the United States, the European Union, Arab nations and representatives of the Syrian opposition, canceled her trip due to a stomach flu that hit her and a number of her staff.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will attend in Clinton's place.

"I think what you'll see is a political decision to morally boost them (the Syrian opposition) and provide more political and moral support for their efforts. And look at how we can financially assist the opposition moving forward," according to an official who spoke to CNN before Obama's announcement, but declined to be identified because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

"But again, I think you're going to see a political recognition, not a legal recognition."

Legally recognizing the Syrian Opposition Coalition would carry more weight because the United States would treat the opposition like an alternative government, said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria and a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.

In order to do that, the United States would have to determine that the opposition controls a majority of Syrian territory and has taken over the country's treaty obligations from al-Assad's government, neither of which has happened.

Even as it agrees to recognize Syria's opposition politically, Washington will still continue to deal with the Assad government in certain capacities.

"It's more of a political shot in the arm for the Syrian opposition," Tabler said. "And it's hoped that by doing that, it will straighten their backs and strengthen them and encourage them to come together and work together more effectively."

Speaking before Obama's annoucement, Frederic Wehrey, senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the expected upgrade in relations with the opposition "overwhelmingly political," a step that is "an attempt to encourage this positive trend, while at the same time isolating more radical actors in the opposition."

As part of Washington's effort to isolate extremist groups in Syria while boosting the new political coalition, the U.S. Treasury on Tuesday imposed sanctions on leaders of the jihadist al-Nusra Front in Syria, after the State Department moved to blacklist the rebel group as a foreign terror organization linked to al Qaeda in Iraq.

Burns plans to meet with the Syrian opposition during his trip to Marrakech.

The intent is to "hear from them ... about how they see things going forward both in terms of their own internal organization about their connectivity with Syrians inside Syria, about their transitional planning, about the needs that they see for external support, how they would have us best direct the non lethal support and humanitarian support that we are providing," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday.

The United States has been looking for the opposition to establish a leadership structure, Nuland has previously told reporters.

Officials said they have seen progress and that Clinton "has been clear that we'd like to offer them more support," Nuland said.

That support, which already totals more than $200 million in funding and humanitarian aid, could be increased even more with this announcement.

But would "support" include lifting the arms embargo on Syria, an idea that France supports?

Nuland stuck this week with what the United States has been saying for months: "We are maintaining our current posture of providing non-lethal support and not going beyond that."

The United States is not ready to arm the rebels due to continued concern about extremist elements within their ranks. Other countries, like Qatar, are providing some weapons.

Any recognition of the opposition, however, raises issues with Russia, a crucial player in the Syrian equation. The Russians were invited to participate at the Marrakech meeting but declined, according to the State Department.

Moscow has been highly critical of actions by the Syrian armed opposition, even while expressing support for a political solution. The listing of al-Nusra Front as a foreign terror organization is a step that Moscow could welcome.

U.S. recognition of the opposition could anger Moscow but it also could have a positive effect. Russia has warned that chaos could ensue if al-Assad is deposed. The United States could use this recognition as a signal to Russia that the opposition council is moving toward becoming a viable government should al-Assad leave.

The next steps in dealing with the Syrian opposition leadership depend to a large extent on how that opposition continues to develop.

Nuland pointed to the process of recognizing the opposition in Libya as a template.

Recognition is just part of the process of trying to create a political solution for the Syrian conflict. At the same time, the United States is trying to urge Russia to use its influence with Damascus to help bring about a political solution.

That was the focus of recent meetings between the two countries facilitated by the joint special representative of the United Nations and Arab League for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

In a statement, Brahimi said the diplomats "explored avenues to move forward a peaceful process and mobilize greater international action in favor of a political solution."

Nuland said on Monday the question now is whether there are figures in the opposition who could come together.

"Perhaps there are folks who are currently in the government without blood on their hands who could support those kinds of democratic principles and form the basis of a transitional structure going forward," Nuland said.

"Mr. Brahimi thinks it is worth a try," she added. "We want to support his efforts and we'll have to see where that goes."

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. saveyourfeet

    Interesting. What I care about is this: I am a type 1 diabetic. My feet were going to be amputated. until I found a simple way to stop that from happening. if you are a diabetic you need to read saveyourfeetDOTwordpressDOTcom

    December 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  2. alan fischer

    Now lets send all the newly arrivals from Syria back home–deport them–to many to have to feed and provide jobs–benefits

    December 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  3. MHM

    Al nusra front is now a terrorist organization operating with in syria, that basically proves that Syrian Government was right about their fight with terrorist organizations within.... So basically this Whole friends of syria thing is going down the toilete along with that whitebearded guy, they got 200 million dollars from us, and then what?? represent the people from outside?? its like having the congress and the senate representing the USA from MEXICO....LMAO...

    December 12, 2012 at 8:53 am | Reply
  4. innocenttruth

    No woman? Not even one? I guess women is not part of the SOC plan? They are fighting for women and children yet no women representative.

    I've always believe that any political group that does not involve or include woman/women is garbage.

    December 12, 2012 at 1:12 am | Reply
    • Liberace; America's Greatest American

      Women just complicate things. Leadership is a man's job.

      December 12, 2012 at 1:15 am | Reply
  5. DB

    Yup. The POTUS is only a figurehead for the Ruling Banking Class of the World. An example of the old families that run the world economically and politically are the Vanderbuilts, Rockefellers, Morgans, Carniges, DeBairs, Astors, and some others that I forget about. Their are new famlies now that have as much clout and swagger from Russia, China, South Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Nothing gets done politically unless these families approve of it. Our political leaders bow down to them and do their beck and call dance. If it is convenient for these families to pronounce Syria or any other mideast country at peace they will do it, cross them and you will not survive. They make millionairs out of nobodies like the Obama's who were made people by the RNC. Think aobut it, where did he come from, who is he, what are his beliefs, where are his records, who paid for his education and held his hand up to the White House against all odds? He was hand picked and lead through the maze of selection and his masters made sure his was equipped to do the job for their biding. In fact, all POTUS since Regan have been selected this way, there is no changing it, the office is bought and paid for by the RBC.

    December 11, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  6. alfonds

    It means that eventually Assad will have to say good bye to his beautiful wife because he will be gone for a long time.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  7. top notch

    The al-Nusrah Front, which has conducted nearly 600 attacks in Syria in the last year, is now considered an alias for al Qaeda in Iraq, according to a statement from State Dept. spokeswoman Victoria Nuland

    December 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  8. Jack Novak

    The Russians are pouring in support for Assad and obama is going to butt heads with them???
    Welllll, since he will be sending other people's children to die, heeee, still won't. And NO!! he shouldn't be sticking his nose over there to begin with!!!! Lame is all he is!!!

    December 11, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • Peter Grenader

      Don't tell me....it's a big government thing? Or perhaps an abortion issue which has yo up in arms about this? Sour grapes after being trounced in the election maybe? Well, GET OVER IT. This is what the leader of the free world does. We have a guy who is npt beyond the use of chemical weapons against his ow ppl and you think we should sit and let it happen for the sake of being PC is Russia? Are you high or just Tea Party?

      December 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Reply
      • Peter Grenader

        Our armed forces are as brave as they are because they signed up for the honor and knew the risks before they did. YOu seem to forget what those risks are. Not getting enough action in your recliner me thinks.

        December 11, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  9. bgfxetyujbfgh

    SATAN LIVES...

    December 11, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  10. Adam J

    Why are we spending all our tax dollars aiding other countries when we are a) in serious debt, b) the middle east hates us no matter who we support c) the rebels are not clearly pro-democracy, and will certainly establish a muslim brotherhood type regime once Assad is removed... They already killed Alawites today in a car bombing, this is a civil war. We should stay out of it...

    December 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Reply
    • massoud

      well I hate to break it to you but the USA is not a sovereign nation but rather a vessel for the banking cabal .

      December 12, 2012 at 2:14 am | Reply
  11. George Patton

    Here is just more evidence that the right-wing thugs in Washington are seeking to establish another pro-Western pseudo-democracy in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Why should this surprise anyone at all?

    December 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Reply
    • pc

      Didn't know Obama was right wing....

      December 11, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Reply
      • Star-Spangled Bullsh!t

        Obama does as he's told. Just like his predecessors did. Just like his successor(s) will.

        December 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  12. Star-Spangled Bullsh!t

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.....................

    December 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply

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