U.S. Recognizes Syrian Opposition as Foreign Mission

Dear Pitaconsumers:

May 15th marks Al-Nakba from 1948, which produced one of the largest refugee crises in the 20th century.  It has now been joined by the Syria crisis– also produced a record number of refugees– fueled by the Assad regime’s refusal to share power and lay siege on his own people.

Syrian Opposition Gains Foreign Mission Status by U.S. Government

The U.S. government formally recognized the Syrian opposition, Syrian National Council, by granting them ‘foreign mission’ status, a move that the U.K will be following.  Beginning on May 12th, the Syrian opposition was represented in DC by Ahmed Jarba, Hadi al-Bahra (Chief Negotiator), Monzer Akbik, and Rime Allaf who presented their case to the White House, Senators, Congressmen, think tanks (U.S. Institute for Peace and New America Foundation) and Georgetown University.   As Akbik stated to New America, “The extremists are not the opposition. We are the opposition. Al Qaeda uses failed countries as a safehaven.”

This status change provides the backdrop for their leader, Ahmed Jarba’s visit to Washington, DC this week.  PITAPOLICY’s Mehrunisa Qayyum was interviewed by Al-Jazeera Arabic’s Yaser Alarami on what Jarba’s visit means.  Arabic Version here.

Jabra’s Visit & Implications

  1. AJ Arabic: In your opinion what are the indications of Ahmed Jarba’s meeting with President Obama?
  • Qayyum: Indicator 1: As you know,  Jarba met with legislative leaders, like Senate Majority Whip, Dick Durbin, U.S. House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor and Ranking Member of Senate Foreign Relations Committe, John Cain–as well as with the Executive Branch leaders, like Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser, Susan Rice.  But the Congressional discussions continue to veer towards Humanitarian aid/nonlethal support, rather than lethal weapon support.
  • Indicator 2: On April 30th, The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously  to urge the Obama administration and the United Nations to stop recognizing Bashar al-Assad as the “rightful” ruler of Syria and to “redirect” humanitarian assistance directly to private aid groups.  Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/jarba-congress-visit-syria-opposition.html##ixzz31bi0nR00
  • Indicator 3: Perhaps, with the newly formalized status of representing a ‘foreign mission’ Jarba has raised the opposition’s profile by speaking at significant US civil society fora, like at the US Institute for Peace, the Council on Foreign Relations.   Meanwhile the United States is planning a $27 million increase in non-lethal assistance to rebels.
  • In sum: Jarba’s meeting with Obama will occur, but solidifying relations to increase support for a more involved Syria strategy is easier, and more likely, with U.S. Congressmen and Senators.  Jarba’s visit will only reinforce what key officials already believe.
  1. AJ Arabic: Do you think that there will be significant American arming of the Syrian opposition after Jarba’s visit? 
  • Qayyum: To be honest: not in 2014 since the U.S is gearing up for midterm elections, and the Syria issue is controversial and ranks as a secondary issue (compared to the Ukraine crisis).  For example, both Jarba and Hadi al-Bahra sound like a broken record trying to assuage American concerns of Jabhat al-Nusra Front and other Al Qaeda affiliates–whether they’re speaking to congress or to high-profile think tanks, like the New America Foundation on May 12th.  Also note Cantor’s rhetoric beyond Syrians, “confront Iran’s malign influence, and combat the threat posed by extremist terrorists.”  Arming opposition is only to appealing to achieve the eternal threat objectives…not the internal massacres.  Several Senators and Congressman are too worried about increasing the violence on the ground against Syrian civilians if the US turns to arming the rebels.  So another tactic is being used: call out other regimes who are supplying arms–as the U.S. Treasury Dept did with Kuwait’s Islamic Minister Nayef al-Ajmi.  In my humble view, the U.S. is deflecting the U.S. arms discussion by calling out Gulf countries, like Qatar, which has funded over $3 billion to support fighters with arms since 2011.
  • Yet, at the same time, the CIA has already been providing technical training and small arms to Syrian rebels since 2012.  I do not believe that Jarba will walk away with a public U.S. commitment of anti-aircraft weapons and drones support.  In a nutshell, covert operations saves face from publicly debating and acknowledging providing heavier support.

 

  1. AJ Arabic: What tools does Jarba have to convince Washington in this matter?
  • Qayyum: It’s significant that Jarba publicly prioritized the “no-fly zone” matter over the request for arming rebel forces with manpads, anti-aircraft weapons, etc.
  • He has coupled the SNC request with a political solution and pointedly asking the US to exert political pressure.
  • If Jarba focuses on the threat that Russia and Iran pose in arming the Assad regime, he will appeal to the conservative, hawkish base in the U.S.

حفلت زيارة رئيس الائتلاف الوطني السوري أحمد الجربا لواشنطن باللقاءات على أعلى المستويات في الإدارة الأميركية، لكنها على ما يبدو لم تحقق أبرز أهدافها المتمثل في الحصول على سلاح نوعي أو إقناع واشنطن بإقامة منطقة حظر جوي ضد النظام. Click here to continue.

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Al-Nakba, The Catastrophe

As you know, May 15th marks ‘Al-Nakba’, or the ‘Catastrophe’ where Palestinians were displaced by the creation of a new state.  As human rights organization, Amnesty International notes, “For many Palestinian citizens the Prawer-Begin plan evokes the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in events referred to as the ‘Nakba,’ or catastrophe.”  Therefore,”Amnesty International calls for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, along with those of their descendants who have maintained genuine links with the area, to be able to exercise their right to return.”

For more details on the numbers and recounting of events, we have included the facts shared by Amnesty International.


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