US backs Syrian opposition leader in talks with regime

CHANGING SCENE::While the Opposition Coalition has been pushing for talks, Iran has issued a warning to Israel after the latter confirmed an air strike in Syria


Wed, Feb 06, 2013 - Page 7

The US has strongly backed a move by Syria’s opposition leader to open dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to end 22 months of warfare that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

Opposition Coalition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib told pan-Arab television channel al-Jazeera on Monday that “the ball is now in the regime’s court. They will either say yes or no.”

He was following up on his surprise announcement last week that he was ready for talks with the Damascus regime — subject to conditions, including the release of 160,000 detainees.

He later told al-Arabiya news channel that he was ready to meet al-Assad’s deputy, Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa.

“Since the start of the crisis, Mr Sharaa has seen that things are not going in the right direction,” al-Khatib said. “If the regime accepts the idea, I ask it to delegate Faruq al-Sharaa for us to hold discussions with him.”

US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that if the Syrian regime is interested in peace “it should sit down and talk now with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and we would strongly support al-Khatib in that call.”

She stressed to journalists in Washington that the US position remained unchanged on bringing to account those, on both sides, who have committed atrocities.

“Doctor Bashar, this country is in grave danger. Come out of your bubble, if only for a moment. Look into the eyes of your children and you will recover some of your humanity,” al-Khatib said, addressing al-Assad by the term adopted by state media and his supporters.

“We can help each other in the interest” of the people, al-Khatib said. “The regime needs to take a clear position. We will extend our hands for the sake of the people, and in order to help the regime leave in peace.”

Some opposition figures have denounced al-Khatib’s proposal as traitorous.

He rejected the criticism and said: “Our people are dying, and we will not allow that.”

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili was in Damascus on Monday, where he renewed Tehran’s support for al-Assad.

Jalili also issued a warning to Israel after the Jewish state confirmed an air strike near Damascus, saying it would regret its latest “aggression against Syria.”

“Just as it has regretted all its wars ... the Zionist entity will regret its aggression against Syria,” Jalili said. “Syria is at the forefront of the Muslim world’s confrontation with the Zionist entity.”