BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: The Friends of Syria group backing the opposition will convene Thursday to discuss its next steps in the wake of the opening of “a new page” in relations between the U.S. and National Coalition, and the resignation of the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who will host the 11-nation meeting in London, blamed the regime for the breakdown of talks designed to end the Syria crisis.
Responsibility for the “collapse of ... negotiations rests wholly with the regime’s refusal to engage in negotiations that addressed the issues at the heart of the Syrian conflict,” he said after Brahimi’s resignation announcement.
Insisting that a negotiated solution would be the only way forward, he said Assad and his backers “need to re-engage in the political process, and show they are serious about reaching a political settlement.
The Friends of Syria will talk “about how we can turn this dialogue into meaningful political process,” Hague added.
In Damascus, MP Fayez Sayegh, a senior Baath Party figure, welcomed Brahimi’s resignation and called for the appointment of a “more objective” mediator, describing Brahimi as a biased man who interfered in Syria’s internal affairs.
Brahimi, an 80-year-old veteran Algerian diplomat, tried unsuccessfully for nearly two years to mediate an end to Syria’s civil war. He was preceded in the post by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who resigned in August 2012.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said he “deeply regretted” Brahimi’s resignation, which he said reflected the failure of the international community – represented by the U.N. Security Council – to assume responsibility to stop the war.
Brahimi recently criticized Assad’s intention to hold presidential elections amid the war, saying it would hamper prospects for the political solution that the country so urgently needs. His comments angered the Syrian government, which intends to hold a vote on June 3.
The Friends of Syria meeting also comes after National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba wound up an eight-day trip to the U.S., where he met with President Barack Obama and other senior American officials.
After Brahimi’s announcement Tuesday, Jarba and a Coalition delegation met with National Security Adviser Susan Rice for two hours, with the president joining the meeting for 30 minutes, a Coalition source said.
Jarba, according to the source, broached three main topics: ways to halt the violence, the rebel Free Syrian Army’s firm opposition to working with terror groups and the need for a more decisive stance to counter support from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to the Assad regime.
The Coalition said a “new page” had been opened in relations with the U.S., although in the run-up to the visit Jarba publicly urged Washington to establish a no-fly zone or provide the opposition with weaponry that could neutralize the regime’s air power.
While the White House failed to announce its approval of the moves, some observers believe that the Jarba visit should not be considered a failure, as the results of the visit would not be immediately apparent.
The Coalition source said Jarba informed U.S. officials in detail about FSA units that are worthy of receiving stepped-up aid.
In Syria, rebels from the Islamic Front, which is not affiliated with the FSA, used a tunnel to plant and detonate explosives at a checkpoint at the Wadi Deif army base in Idlib province, killing or wounding dozens of regime troops, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.
Wadi Deif and the nearby Hamidieh base are among the Assad regime’s last few remaining strongholds in the northwestern province.