President Barack Obama declared Syria's main opposition group the sole "legitimate representative" of its country's people Tuesday, deeming the move "a big step" in the international diplomatic efforts to end Syrian President Bashar Assad's embattled regime.
Obama said the newly formed Syrian Opposition Council "is now inclusive enough" to be granted the elevated status, which paves the way for the greater US support for the organization.
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"Obviously, with that recognition comes responsibilities," Obama said in an interview Tuesday with ABC News. "To make sure that they organize themselves effectively, that they are representative of all the parties, that they commit themselves to a political transition that respects women's rights and minority rights."
Recognition of the council as the sole representative of Syria's diverse population brings the US in line with Britain, France and several of America's Arab allies, which took the same step shortly after the body was created at a meeting of opposition representatives in Qatar last month.
US recognition of the opposition council is expected to be a centerpiece of an international conference on the Syria crisis in Morocco this week. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had been due to attend Wednesday's meeting in Marrakech but canceled her trip because she was ill with a stomach virus, her spokesman, Philippe Reines, said. Instead, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will lead the US delegation.
The upgraded status for the council is expected to be accompanied by pledges of additional humanitarian and nonlethal logistical support for the opposition. It's unlikely that the US would add military assistance to that, at least in the short-term. Providing arms remains a matter of intense internal debate inside the administration, officials said.
Officials said the US evolution in recognizing Syria's opposition would closely mirror the process the administration took last year in Libya with its opposition.
End near? rebels tear Assad poster (Photo: AP)
"I would remind you of how this went in the Libya context where we were able to take progressive steps as the Libyan opposition themselves took steps to work with them, and to advance the way we dealt with them politically," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
The move could allow the Syrian opposition to set up a liaison office in Washington with a de facto ambassador.
It is unclear, however, given the level of violence in Syria and the potential threat of chemical weapons, if the US would soon send a representative to rebel-controlled areas of the country.
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