‘Friends of Syria’ call for forming transitional body to rule country with full powers

by Hani Hazaimeh | May 23, 2013 JORDAN TIMES

AMMAN — His Majesty King Abdullah met with top Western diplomats as Amman hosted the “Friends of Syria” meeting on Wednesday.

The core ministerial members of the Friends of Syria group meet in Amman before the opening of the conference (AFP photo)

The King met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry separately on the sidelines of the international meeting to discuss bilateral relations, the Syrian crisis and regional developments with special emphasis on the Palestinian peace process, according to the Royal Court.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh also clarified Jordan’s stands on the various aspects of the Syrian crisis hours before the conference began, calling on the international community to extend a “helping hand” to Jordan to carry out its humanitarian duties towards Syrian refugees in the Kingdom and denying news reports that Jordan is allowing US troops to train Syrian rebel fighters on its territory.

During his meeting with Kerry, which was also attended by HRH Crown Prince Hussein, King Abdullah lauded the strength of Jordanian-US relations and praised Kerry’s efforts in revitalising the Palestinian peace process and his attempts to bring Palestine and Israel to the negotiating table.

On Syria, the Monarch underlined during the meeting with Hague Jordan’s commitment to finding a transitional political solution to the civil war that will preserve the unity and cohesion of Syria’s territory and people.

‘Friends of Syria’

In the closing statement of the conference, the representatives of Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK and the USA identified as the cornerstone of a political solution in Syria the formation of a transitional governing body through mutual consent, within a defined and agreed upon time frame.

The suggested body, they agreed, should assume full executive authority, including all powers of the presidency in addition to control over the armed forces and the security and intelligence apparatuses “for an agreed upon and defined time frame for the transitional period. The ministers affirmed that the final objective of the transitional period should include the adoption of a new Syrian constitution that guarantees the equal rights of all citizens”.

Representatives from the leadership of the Syrian National Coalition of the Revolutionary and Opposition Forces also attended part of the meeting, and briefed the ministers on the situation inside Syria.

The ministers condemned the use of heavy weapons including ballistic missiles against the people and deplored the ethnic cleansing that the regime is pursuing as seen recently in Banias, and declared that such crimes will not go unpunished.

The ministers expressed their strong concern over the increasing presence and growing radicalism on both sides of the conflict and terrorist elements in Syria, a “matter that deepens the concerns for the future of Syria, threatens the security of neighbouring countries and risks destabilising the wider region and the world”.

The ministers denounced the intervention of foreign combatants fighting on behalf of the regime, and consider their presence a flagrant intervention on Syrian territory and a serious threat to regional stability. In this context, the participants stressed in particular the operations conducted by Hizbollah in Qusayr and elsewhere and called for the immediate withdrawal of Hizbollah, fighters from Iran and other regime allied foreign fighters from Syrian territory.

The ministers viewed with extreme concern the growing number of reports and strong indications of the use of chemical weapons by the regime in Syria. They emphasised the importance of enabling the UN to conduct a comprehensive investigation regarding the use of such weapons. The ministers stressed that there will be severe consequences if these reports are confirmed.

In his remarks at the opening of the conference, Judeh said Jordan’s stance on the crisis stems from the “special relationship” Jordan enjoys with Syria and its people, stressing that a “strong, stable and unified Syria is in Jordan’s national interest”.

He added that the meeting in Amman has a significant meaning, since it aims to reinstate peace and security, stop the bloodshed and allow Syrians to “realise their legitimate dream of democracy and freedom”.

The foreign minister said the Friends of Syria meeting in Amman builds on the US-Russia proposed Geneva I conference in January, which set out plans for a transition of power in Syria.

Geneva I broke down after disagreements over President Bashar Assad’s role.

Addressing the opening session of the Amman talks, Kerry said the Friends of Syria nations must “do everything in our ability to help the opposition to come to the table in a strong position and be able to negotiate effectively, even while we work with others to get the regime to the table, too”, according to Reuters.

Kerry said that the US and Russia agree that the unity of Syria is paramount, adding that everybody wants peace in the Middle East, but Assad thinks otherwise.

Syrian envoy

Syrian Ambassador to Jordan Bahjat Suleiman on Wednesday, hours before the meeting, spoke out against the “Friends of Syria” group, stating that Syria “will not accept the results of the meeting”.

Describing the participants in the event “deluded”, he slammed the motives of the group, adding that they should call themselves the “Friends of Israel”, adding “no one commissioned them… to represent the Syrian people”.

Describing the relationship between Jordan and Syria as “strong and brotherly”, he directly addressed the Jordanian government and urged it to maintain a stance of non-intervention in the Syrian civil war, and not to allow its land to be used for the training of Syrian rebel soldiers.

The event was also opposed by a group of activists, mostly pro-Syrian regime leftists and pan-Arabists, who gathered briefly at the venue of the meeting.

Mideast peace

In his discussions with Hague and Kerry, the King called for bolstering efforts to relaunch negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis based on the two-state solution, which he said is the sole path to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and bring peace and stability to the region, according to the Royal Court.

He cited the Arab Peace Initiative as a “historical” opportunity to realise peace between Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds, stressing the need to seize it imminently.

Hague underlined efforts by Kerry as key to ending the peace process’ current impasse.

King Abdullah also underlined the important role Europe, and especially Great Britain, plays in supporting the Palestinian peace plan. He said that it plays a crucial part in paving the path for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on its national soil and in calling on Israel to halt its unilateral measures, particularly illegal settlement expansion activities, which impede peace.

In light of recent Israeli attacks against Al Haram Al Sharif in Jerusalem, the Monarch warned against the repercussions of the frequent Israeli violations at the holy sites in Jerusalem, saying they jeopardise the chances of making peace.

The Monarch said the peace process is at the core of all conflict in the Middle East, and stressed that continued unilateral Israeli measures and assaults against holy Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem are a real obstacle to peace efforts.

On Syria, both foreign ministers expressed their gratitude for the humanitarian aid that Jordan is extending to the large number of Syrian refugees who are now living in the country.

Kerry, who is visiting the Kingdom as part of a regional tour, stressed that the US will continue to support the Kingdom and will urge the international community to contribute assistance.

During his talks with the King, Hague expressed the UK’s commitment to supporting Jordan so that the Kingdom may continue to provide vital humanitarian support to Syrian guests, according to the Royal Court.

The Monarch underlined Jordan’s support to efforts aimed to find a transitional political solution to the Syrian crisis, end the bloodshed and preserve the unity and cohesion of Syria and its people.

He warned that if a solution is not found soon, then the Syrian civil war would have “dangerous consequences on the region”.

Patriots

Speaking to Al Sharq Qatari newspaper, Ensour responded to questions over Syrian refugees in Jordan, acknowledging Jordan’s appeal to deploy Patriot missiles in the north of the Kingdom that will work to protect displaced Syrians.

The call for missiles in the country’s north follows reports of severe violence and air strikes in the south of Syria, near the border with Jordan, which is preventing refugees from entering the country for fear of their lives.

Ensour called reports claiming that Jordan is hosting US troops who are training Syrian rebels as “baseless”, stressing that the presence of some 200 US troops on Jordanian soil is for purely technical reasons and to counter any potential threat of chemical weapons coming from Syria.

At a joint press conference with Kerry ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting in Amman, Judeh reiterated that the Kingdom does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and at the same time “we share the same fears over the division of Syria”.

“Tonight’s meeting is a challenge to all participants to reach and achieve peace and prevent the sectarian violence from seeping into other countries,” Kerry added.

During a press conference held with Hague, Judeh said “Jordan has taken a strategic decision to keep the border open for humanitarian reasons. The flow of refugees into the country is bound to the developments on the ground,” he told reporters.

“The situation is changing on a daily basis in Syria and perhaps that is why the influx of refugees into the Kingdom has declined significantly over the past few days,” the minister said, in reference to a significantly diminished influx of Syrian refugees over the past few days.

Hague added that only President Assad’s departure could clear the way for a settlement in Syria.

French FM

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced in Amman that the decision to ease the arms embargo providing Syrian rebels with weapons will be discussed in Brussels by EU member countries, during a press conference on Wednesday.

The embargo was initially proposed by France and Britain in an attempt to ensure that the rebel forces fighting Assad’s troops are sufficiently equipped.

The French minister pledged his government’s support to both the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the major rebel group within the war torn country, and the international Syrian peace conference proposed by the US and Russia.

He stressed France’s belief that for a secure and peaceful Syria, all parties must be involved in the transitional peace process to ensure a durable state of stability.

Highlighting that the driving force behind the Friends of Syria group was former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who proposed the idea in 2012, Fabius added that his attendance at the meeting in Amman showed that “France completely supports the SNC”.

Mohammad Ghazal, Taylor Luck and Gaelle Sundelin contributed to this report

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