US: new Syria body 'a legitimate representative'
WASHINGTON - The United States said Tuesday the newly formed opposition National Coalition was "a legitimate representative" of the Syrian people, but stopped short of recognizing it as a government-in-exile.
"We now have a structure in place that can prepare for a political transition, but... we're looking for it to still establish the types of technical committees that will allow us to make sure our assistance gets to the right places," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.
"We do think this is a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, that it does reflect the Syrian people... that diverse group of Syrian people," he told journalists.
The diverse forces involved in the Syrian coalition agreed on Sunday to unify their fighting forces under a supreme military council and set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas in Syria.
The move which came after talks in Doha came after Washington pushed the Syrian National Council to broaden its membership, saying it was not representative of all the groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
"We look forward, obviously, to supporting the national coalition as it charts a course for the end of Assad's bloody rule, and marks the start, we believe, of a peaceful, just and democratic future for the people of Syria," Toner said.
He insisted however that the group which emerged Sunday after four days of marathon talks in the Qatari capital resulted from a Syrian-led process.
"We've obviously been instrumental in the creation of -- and the secretary, in fact, has been instrumental in this creation of this group, the Friends of the Syrian People," Toner said.
"They were obviously there in force in Qatar to help, however we could, what was essentially a Syrian-led process. And that's important; it's important to delineate that this was a Syrian-led process, that the Syrians took charge of this, that they were the ones who worked through the long hours over the weekend and created this national council."
France on Tuesday became the first country to recognize the newly formed opposition group as the sole representative of the Syrian people and said it was time to review whether the rebels should be given arms.
But Toner said the US policy of providing only non-lethal support and humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels remained unchanged.
Britain has also said it wants to see more evidence that the grouping has strong support inside Syria before formally recognizing it as effectively a government-in-exile.
London is to host a meeting on emergency aid for the Syrian people on Friday, which will be attended by the US special coordinator for Middle East transitions, ambassador Bill Taylor, Toner said.
He said one of the goals of Doha was to see "the creation of a political body that was more representative of the Syrian people. We do believe that has been accomplished."
"We also want to see that it has a demonstrated ability to represent Syrians within Syria," Toner said, adding the group now had to show it can "funnel assistance to where it's needed most" and prove itself "effective."