Syrian Opposition Won’t Attend Talks Unless Rebel Army Receives Military Aid

The Syrian opposition has announced that it will not attend the Geneva conference that Secretary of State Kerry and others are putting together unless the Syrian rebels receive military aid:

WASHINGTON — The Syrian opposition will not attend the proposed Geneva conference on the crisis in Syria unless rebel fighters receive new supplies of arms and ammunition, the top rebel military commander said Friday.

“If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva,” Gen. Salim Idris said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in northern Syria. “There will be no Geneva.”

Secretary of State John Kerry announced in May that the United States and Russia planned to organize an international meeting that would bring together representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Syrian opposition. The aim of the meeting, which has emerged as the centerpiece of Mr. Kerry’s Syria strategy, is to negotiate a transitional government that would take control if Mr. Assad agreed to vacate his position. A date for the Geneva conference has yet to be set.

But since that announcement, Mr. Assad’s military position has been strengthened by flights of arms from Iran and the involvement of thousands of fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group. The change of fortunes on the battlefield was illustrated last week when the Syrian military and Hezbollah fighters captured the town of Qusayr.

The proposal to hold talks in Geneva at a point when the Syrian opposition has suffered a bitter reversal has led many in the opposition to question the West’s strategy. In effect, they say, Mr. Kerry is insisting that the Syrian opposition sit down with representatives of a Syrian president who appears as determined as ever to hang on to power and at a time when the opposition’s leverage has been diminished.

General Idris said that he supported the idea of a Geneva meeting in principle, but was worried that it would backfire if it occurred before the rebel position was strengthened with new supplies of arms and ammunition.

Going to the “Geneva conference is a Western idea, but we have to be powerful on the ground as F.S.A., as opposition,” he said, using the initials for the rebels’ Free Syrian Army.

“What can we ask for when we go very weak to Geneva?” he said. “The Russians and the Iranians and the representatives of the regime will say: ‘You don’t have any power. We are controlling everything. What you are coming to ask for?’ ”

General Idris leads the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the opposition that the United States is backing. Rebel fighters also include extremists from the Nusra Front, which is allied with Al Qaeda and is not part of the council.

The political wing of the Syrian opposition, though still fragmented and struggling to pick new leaders, also dismissed the possibility of peace talks and lashed out at Western and Arab countries for failing to arm the rebels.

Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, George Sabra, the acting head of the Syrian Coalition, said that despite Mr. Assad’s “continued violations of red lines that have been extended repeatedly,” the Western and Arab countries had refused to let Syrians “protect their children.”

While I can understand why the Syrian rebels might be making such a demand, the only thing its likely to do is torpedo the chances for any conference at all. Stepping in to arm the rebels now is likely to cause the Assad regime to back out of the talks and would likely place Russian support for the whole idea into doubt. Of course, I’m not sure that these talks ever had any chance of success to begin with. What, exactly, is there for these parties to bargain over? The rebels have made Assad’s removal from power a prerequisite to any deal,and that’s simply not something that the Assad regime, or the Russians, are going to agree to no matter how successful the rebels might be on the ground.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stonetools says:

    Middle Eastern proverb:

    “When I am strong, why should I compromise? When I am weak, how can I compromise?”

    Let’s face it, the rebels are right: Assad has no reason to compromise now, because he’s winning!At this talk, he will concede nothing: his sole demand will be that the rebels lay down their arms.
    Westerners are big on having talks for the sake of talking, but in the ME, if there is nothing to talk about, they don’t talk.

    What may change Assad’s calculation is a Western promise to arm the rebels if Assad doesn’t make concessions. That actually would make a productive conference more likely. In this way, I think the Syrian rebels may have a better sense of the issues here.

    The rebels have made Assad’s removal from power a prerequisite to any deal,and that’s simply not something that the Assad regime, or the Russians, are going to agree to no matter how successful the rebels might be on the ground.

    This is certainly the rebels’ maximalist position,(Assad’s is that the rebels lay down their arms) but if there is a chance for something less they will take it. Assad, however, won’t move off his maximalist position if he is likely to win, which is how it looks now.

  2. Frank says:

    Interesting. I wonder, who would benefit form this arms sale?

  3. aFloridian says:

    It is mind-boggling to me that we are providing any support at all to these rebels. There’s never been any doubt that the Assad regime is repressive, and brutal, but we don’t really know anything about the rebels – there are documented atrocities on both sides – and supporting the rebels is likely to lead to us propping up another Islamist state like what is happening in Egypt.