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May 18, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6435

Syrian Opposition Official: West Responsible For Assad Remaining In Power; U.S. Enabled Russia To Become Main Player In Syria Crisis

May 18, 2016
Russia, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 6435

Khaled Khoja, who served as president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces until March 2016, gave an interview to the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on April 17, 2016, in which he harshly attacked the international community and particularly the U.S. Khoja argued that the U.S. never desired regime change in Syria and therefore did not take a decisive stand against Bashar Al-Assad despite his many crimes, and did not significantly support the Syrian opposition. According to him, the Americans showed apathy regarding the crisis, enabling Russia to fill the vacuum that they had created in a way that suited Russian interests. He added that the purpose of American military aid to the Kurds was to create a Kurdish canton, which would effectively lead to the splintering of Syria. Khoja stressed that the Syrian High Negotiations Committee remains insistent that the first step is to establish a transitional governing body, and only then can a new constitution, elections, and other topics be addressed.

It should be mentioned that the interview was given prior to the April 19 announcement by the head of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, Riyad Hijab, that its delegation was suspending its participation in the Geneva talks.

Following are excerpts from the interview:[1]

 
Khaled Khoja (image: Zamanalwsl.net)

We Insist On A Serious Transition Of Power And All Authority

Khoja started by mentioning the Syrian High Negotiations Committee's expectations from the current round of the Geneva talks: "We are here to focus on forming the governing body for the transitional phase. U.S. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is continuing his relentless efforts to begin discussing the political transitional phase, which will be based on establishing the 'governing body,' as stated in the Geneva announcement, UN Security Council Resolution 2218, and other resolutions. We have been empowered by opposition forces to discuss realizing these goals and we cannot deviate from them. Negotiations today should pick up where Geneva II left off [in February 2014] under the supervision of [former UN Special Envoy to Syria] Lakhdar Brahimi. We must start by forming this [governing] body and then proceeding to discuss the issues of the constitution, the elections, and other matters that fall under the governing body's authority. Naturally, we have clear views on all these issues, which we will reveal at the appropriate time. I wish to say that we reject the verbal slips replacing the phrase 'transitional governing body' with 'transitional regime' or 'transitional government' and adhere to 'transitional phase governing body' and all it implies - meaning a serious transition of power and all authority."

International And American Support For The Opposition Is Feeble

According to Khoja, "the position of international, and especially American, support for the Syrian opposition is feeble. The sad thing is that the true positions [of the U.S. and international community] regarding Assad is still feeble and vague despite all the evidence marking Bashar Al-Assad as a 'war criminal,' and despite the many official American statements that hold him responsible for ongoing killing and acts of slaughter. The lack of international political desire to push for the start of the transitional political phase in Syria has provided Assad and the parties supporting him, whether Iranians or Russians, with room to maneuver, enabling him [Assad] to continue heading the regime and to remain a chaos-creating factor in the region, [a factor] which exacerbates the refugee crisis and uses it as a card for pressuring neighboring countries and Europe, and which exports ISIS and terrorism..."

U.S. Apathy Is A Main Factor In Russia Becoming The Main Player In The Crisis

Khoja said further: "There is clearly American apathy regarding the Middle East, which opens the door for Russia to fill the vacuum left by the Americans... When we speak of the mass extermination of the Syrian people, their expulsion, the use of chemical weapons against them, the documentation of regime crimes in detention centers, forced disappearances, preplanned acts of murder, and red lines that have become green lights - all this causes observers to lose faith in the American position... Had the Americans not created this vacuum, we would not have been in the state we are in today, and Russia would not have become the main player in the crisis, holding the reins of initiative... Politically speaking, I believe the American position has not changed much since the onset of the Syrian revolution... [From the start] there was no real American support for change... The military aid we received [from the U.S.] is no match for the [American] military aid received by the Kurdish [Democratic] Union Party and the Kurdish People's Defense Unit militias [YPG]. We believe that this aid for the Kurds was meant to create a new Kurdish 'canton' and to enforce a new reality as a foregone conclusion. American apathy has turned Syria into a series of 'cantons'. The 'Southern Canton,' which is apart from the 'Northern Canton,' the 'Kurdish Canton,' and the 'Alawi Canton.' We cannot discount the possibility that as part of the political process, we will see a strengthening of [the phenomenon] of these cantons, but we will absolutely not agree to this..."

Syria Cannot Remain A Group Of Cantons In The Medium And Long Term

Khoja said that during the second round of negotiations there was talk of a federal solution that was "marketed by the Americans, the Russians, and UN Special Envoy de Mistura, who spoke openly and explicitly in one press conference on the topic of federation. Except that he did not discuss this issue with us, but rather only with other parties. The Russians did not hide their support for the federal solution and in my opinion, there is a serious attempt to create facts on the ground in Syria in order to strengthen the 'canton' situation.

"Any international solution, regardless of which parties promote it, cannot impose a situation that the Syrian people do not agree to. It is possible that the current situation will continue in the near future, but not in the medium and long term. The proof of this is that in the 1920s, the French tried to establish four statelets in Syria, but they only lasted a few years."

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 17, 2016.

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