Friends of Syria Press for Syrian Peace Conference

Secretary Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh arrive at a news conference in Amman May 22.
Secretary Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh arrive at a news conference in Amman May 22.

By Phillip Kurata
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
May 22, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry met in Amman, Jordan, with the foreign ministers of 10 countries in Europe and the Middle East to plot a common course aimed at convening an international conference in Geneva to end the war in Syria.

“All the partners come here to meet this evening with the goal of putting an end to the bloodshed that has cost tens of thousands of lives,” Kerry told reporters in Amman May 22.

Gathering with Kerry were his counterparts from Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, France, Germany and Italy. The 11-member group, known as the Friends of Syria, supports the Syrian opposition in its struggle to drive the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad from power.

More concretely, the members of the Friends of Syria want to convene a conference in Geneva to establish a transitional government “by mutual consent with full executive authority,” Kerry said.

The secretary said the effort to convene the conference and establish a transitional government may fail, but an attempt must be made because of the horrible consequences of continued war.

“There will be more foreign fighters, there will be more extremists, there will be more danger to the volatility to the region. There may be more ethnic cleansing, more massacres. Syria may break up into different parts. Nobody will benefit from that continued struggle,” Kerry said. “The Geneva process is a better alternative than doing nothing.”

Kerry earlier visited Moscow where Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government would support a Geneva conference. Russia is an ally and supplier of weapons to the Assad regime. Kerry said that fighters from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Iranians also are in Syria supporting the regime.

Kerry made it clear that President Obama does not intend to put U.S. forces on the ground in Syria but will support the Syrian opposition in other ways. The Obama administration “has taken no options off the table with respect to how that support may be provided or what kind of support it may be,” he said.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said his government has been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition forces because of fears that some of them may be extremists.

“The presence of extremist organizations and non-Syrian fighters on the ground is of concern to many of us,” Judeh said. He said Jordan wants to avoid the possibilities of the war spilling into Lebanon or causing the breakup of Syria.

“We are indeed concerned of these potential dangers, and we’re certainly trying to resolve them through this diplomatic and political effort,” Judeh said.

Kerry said that if the attempt to convene a Geneva conference fails, then the Friends of Syria will continue to support the opposition in its fight for Syria’s freedom. He said with 70,000 people dead from fighting inside Syria and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, the humanitarian crisis is among the largest in recent memory.