UNITED NATIONS -- Efforts to draw together the fragmented foes
of Syrian President Bashar Assad could lead to direct talks between the
leader's regime and his opponents, a key official said after talks on
the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Iraqi Foreign Minister
Hoshyar Zebari on Friday proposed plans to broker discussions for a
political transition in Syria -- amid the paralysis at the U.N. Security
Council which has cast a pall over the annual gathering of world
leaders in New York.
Zebari told The Associated Press in an
interview that he made the offer to bring together Syria's regime and
opposition at a meeting Friday between nine representatives of
anti-Assad groups and the Friends of Syria -- a coalition which includes
the United States, the European Union and the Arab League.
He acknowledged that the U.N. and Arab League joint envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, would need to take the plan forward.
a more coherent opposition is seen as a means of increasing pressure on
the Syrian leadership amid Russia and China's decisions to veto three
Western-backed resolutions aimed at forcing Assad to end the violence.
on Friday made their broadest assault yet to drive Assad's forces out
of Aleppo, Syria's largest city. Activists claim that since the
18-month-old conflict began, more than 30,000 people have been killed in
Syria's opposition has been criticized as
hopelessly fractured and unable to coalesce around a transition plan
that was adopted by members of the U.N. Security Council in Geneva over
the summer, though Western officials say they are beginning to see
tentative signs of progress.
Revolutionary councils in cities
including Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al-Zour are becoming
increasingly organized, U.S. officials insist. In Idlib, in northwestern
Syria, and Deir al-Zour, in the country's east, the local councils are
taking charge of municipal duties, restoring power supplies and cleaning
Talks Friday focused on efforts to boost cooperation
between the rival groups, provide them with millions of dollars more in
non-lethal equipment, and help them cement authority in areas freed from
the Assad regime's control.
"It is encouraging to see some
progress toward greater opposition unity, but we all know there is more
work to be done," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the
Mouaz Moustafa, a 27-year-old activist with the
Washington-based "Coalition for a Democratic Syria," which lobbies on
behalf of the civilian councils and was involved in the talks, said the
local groups could provide the roots of a post-Assad Syria if they are
supported with funding.
"It will be undermined if it's not coupled
with financial support," he said. "You have civilian councils right
now. If you don't help them, you miss an opportunity. Without money,
they lose credibility, viability and power."
He said in one
instance, France had supplied about $13,000 to the Maarat al-Nuaman
civilian council, in northwestern Syria, which allowed them to clean
streets, rebuild a bread factory and pay for policemen.
said the councils were crucial for the country to re-emerge under
civilian rule. If they failed, it would risk emboldening military
commanders to create their own fiefdoms in liberated areas, or Islamic
extremists - better armed and with money - to set up their own power
U.S. officials acknowledged the importance of helping
civilian activists, rather than fighters, to prepare to provide services
when the country's leadership falls.
"People with guns who don't
know how to have bread baked are quickly going to lose credibility on
the street. People with guns who can't make the lights come back on are
going to quickly lose credibility on the street," said a senior U.S.
official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the
During talks Friday, Clinton pledged $15 million in new
non-lethal equipment -- mainly communications equipment -- and $30 in
million humanitarian assistance to Syria's opposition. In total, the
U.S. has offered $130 million in humanitarian supplies and about $40
million in equipment such as including satellite-linked computers,
telephones and cameras. Britain and France have also offered millions of
dollars worth of aid supplies and equipment.
At the General
Assembly on Friday, Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu warned of
the risks that Syria's civil war could spread to other Middle East
nations. "The Syrian regime deploys every instrument to turn the
legitimate struggle of the Syrian people into a sectarian war, which
will engulf the entire region into flames," he said.
On Saturday, nations including Uruguay, Denmark, Portugal, Sudan and Angola were scheduled to address the assembly.