ISTANBUL – Syria’s fractious opposition groups began reconciliation talks in Istanbul on Tuesday aimed at demonstrating they can provide a coherent and effective alternative to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The opposition forces have been invited by Turkey and Qatar, which hold the rotating chair of the Arab League, to talks in Istanbul to try to form a common front while their homeland is convulsed by a year-old uprising that Assad is trying to crush.
About 300 dissidents attended the welcome dinner at a seaside hotel in Pendik, a distant suburb on the Asian side of Istanbul, and more were expected to join what the Turkish hosts call an “open house” meeting on Tuesday.
Burhan Ghalioun, president of the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has sought support for the meeting to end with a “national oath,” committing all the opposition to building a democratic state, without any agenda for revenge, and to seek reconciliation once Assad is removed.
“Based on the national responsibility on all the political powers in the Syrian revolution and the efforts to unite the opposition and its vision, we declare the basic principles that the new state will be based upon,” a draft declaration said.
It said the new Syria will be “civic, democratic and totally free,” with a transitional government to organize a ballot to elect a founding assembly to draft a new constitution.
“The Syrian people are proud of their cultural and religious diversity. Everyone will contribute in building the future,” it said.
There are likely to be fierce debates on the wording of the oath and on the strategy to overthrow Assad, as well as on calls for reform of the SNC, delegates said. Some delegates feel that while the SNC has more than 300 members, only a handful take decisions and that while all sectarian and ethnic groups are represented on the executive, that was little more than tokenism.
This article was also printed in the Jerusalem Post.