Friends of Syria Group

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The Group of Friends of the Syrian People (sometimes Friends of Syria Group, Friends of the Syrian People Group, Friends of Democratic Syria or simply Friends of Syria) is an international diplomatic collective of countries and bodies convening periodically on the topic of Syria outside the U.N. Security Council. The collective was created in response to a Russian and Chinese veto on a Security Council resolution condemning Syria.

Syria maintains cordial ties with its longtime friends, Iran and Russia. Iran and Russia provide political and military support for the Syrian government, as do the Lebanese Hezbollah organization, the Palestinian militant PFLP-GC with a base in Syria, and others.

History and Purpose

The group was founded by Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France at the time, with the aim of resolving the Syrian conflict after Russia and China vetoed a resolution at the UN Security Council on February 4, 2012. On February 24, 2012, it had its inaugural meeting in Tunisia. The second gathering took place in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 1 of the same year. Early in July 2012, the Friends of Syria had their third gathering in Paris. In December 2012, the fourth summit was held in Marrakesh.

The Friends of Syria Group’s Future Obstacles and Possibilities

  • A resolution requesting the implementation of an Arab League transition plan for Syria was not approved by the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), which led to the long-delayed formation of the Friends Group. The Friends Group has emerged as the most promising framework for sustaining international efforts to end the violence in Syria and achieve a negotiated political transition that would see the end of the Bashar al-Assad regime and the beginning of Syria’s transition to democracy. This is because the UNSC is effectively paralyzed by Russian and Chinese determination to veto even a watered-down version of the Arab League plan.
  • The Friends Group’s agenda is dense and divisive.
  • Three topics are of utmost significance to the U.S. The first is aid to the less fortunate. A senior State Department official gave a press briefing from London and advised journalists to anticipate “concrete proposals on how we, the international community, plan to support humanitarian organizations on the ground within days, meaning that the challenge is on the Syrian regime to respond to this.”
  • Humanitarian aid, however, is fraught with difficulties. Should aid be sent through humanitarian channels? the construction of safe havens? Both would demand military assistance. The Assad government rejects both of them. The alternative, a two-hour truce every day in places like Homs that have been under constant attack from the Assad regime for the past three weeks, is more likely to occur, but even this would require the Assad regime’s assistance.
  • How to support the Syrian opposition via the Syrian National Council (SNC) is a second important question for the U.S. The “senior official” outlined American expectations for the SNC in today’s State Department briefing, including the need for it to create a transition plan that would aid in bolstering support for the SNC within Syria. The official’s tone of voice brought attention to the credibility gap that the SNC needs to close in order to be taken seriously as a partner by the Friends Group’s top members.
  • The United States also seeks to win the Friends Group’s backing for increased sanctions and other forms of economic and diplomatic pressure. A complex network of sanctions has been imposed on Syria over the past year in an effort to cut off the regime’s access to foreign currency, restrict commerce and investment, and target people who are directly connected to the regime. Although sanctions have been coordinated by the EU, Turkey, the Arab League, and the US, Syria’s allies Iran, Russia, China, and even nations like India do not see them as legally binding in the absence of a UNSC resolution. The Friends Group presents a chance to both broaden sanctions and boost worldwide adherence to them.
  • But the meeting will also unavoidably feature heated discussions about how and whether to back the Syrian opposition militarily. In this regard, my own recommendation is to establish procedures for controlling the militarization of the Syrian rebellion.
  • Given how bitterly split member states of the Friends Group are on this subject, the likelihood of an agreement on military support is slim. However, militarization and the issue of arms for the Syrian opposition will continue to dominate discussions in Friends Group meetings as the regime intensifies its violent campaign against civilians in Syria and ignores all calls from the U.N. and other organizations to stop using force.

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