Syrian Coalition Rejects Russian Proposal Without Prosecuting Assad

Syrian Coalition will not consider any proposal that does not bring the Assad regime to justice.

Syrian President Bashar Assad adjusts his earpiece during a news conference at the Moncloa Palace on July 5, 2010, in Madrid. (Paul White/AP)

Opposition groups want Syrian President Bashar Assad held accountable for the chemical attack in Damascus last month.

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The Syrian opposition would not consider any solution to the ongoing war there that does not include bringing the Bashar Assad regime to justice, spokespeople announced midday Tuesday, at the same moment the U.S. said it would consider a new Russian compromise.

Assad confirmed Tuesday morning he would be willing to agree to a Russian proposal to turn over all chemical weapons stockpiles with the ultimate goal of having them destroyed. President Barack Obama welcomed the proposal as a "possible breakthrough" for the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, further exacerbated by reported chemical strikes on Aug. 21.

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The Syrian opposition, however, will not accept any proposals that do not hold accountable the regime forces responsible for chemical attacks.

"We don't trust the Syrian regime. We don't trust the Russians," said Najib Ghadbian, special representative to the United States for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.

 

Ghadbian, who spoke at a press event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., pointed to a conference in Geneva in June 2012, where participating countries agreed to push for a transitional government in Syria in which Assad would have to cede security and military authority.

The U.S. and Russia have stalled in plans for a follow-up conference this year.

"We believe Bashar al-Assad has committed crimes against humanity and he is not acceptable as a person," said Ghadbian. "He should be brought to justice, preferably, very soon."

Any U.N. solution should include that, or the opposition will not support it, he warned.

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He later clarified the opposition would be willing to work with the United Nations as it weighs this proposal, and he trusted that the French, British and U.S. among other supporters would "want to include some element of accountability for the latest use of chemical weapons."

The coalition estimates 1,466 died on Aug. 21, of whom more than 400 were children. Investigators have identified 1,288 of the victims, it says. The Assad regime denies that it conducted a chemical attack.

Farah al-Atassi, a member of the Syrian Coalition who also spoke at the press conference, cited the U.S. threat for military action in Syria as the driving force behind the Russian proposal. Congress should follow through on this action to ensure the opposition meets its goals, she said.

"If the U.S. managed to work with the Russians on pressuring the Assad regime to give up [its] chemical weapons arsenal, they can work to pressure him to give up his seat after two and a half years of continuous bloodshed," said al-Atassi.

"Our problem with the international effort was, either it had been obstructed by Russia or there was a lack of credible threat of the use of force," said Ghadbian. "We saw the president finally introduce it, and you start to see progress. That's why we believe this should go on to the very end."

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The more the U.S. is shown as united in this effort, the more likely Syrians will see a political solution, he said.

Syrian Coalition spokesman Khalid Saleh said the opposition movement would be able to maintain security and stability in Syria following a prospective U.S. missile strike -- addressing concerns among critics in Congress -- but would not offer specifics.

The coalition's Supreme Military Council is working with a bloc of 11 countries that are providing support to the rebels, who are also interested in carrying out those strikes, he said.

"[SMC] has very well established plans to benefit from the strikes if they do take place," he said.

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