|French President Hollande at his press conference|
France Tuesday became the first Western country to formally and unequivocally recognize Syria's newly formed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as “the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
President François Hollande announced the move at his first televised news conference at the helm in Paris.
He told reporters at the Élysée Palace, “I announce today that France recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and thus as the future transitional government of a democratic Syria, allowing it to bring down the curtain on Bashar al-Assad's regime. Wherever liberated zones are established, they should come under its [the Coalition’s] authority.”
Hollande said France would look at the question of arming the Coalition, but that it would not support doing so "as long as it wasn't clear where these weapons went".
"With the Coalition, as soon as it is a legitimate government of Syria, this [arming] question will be looked at by France, but also by all countries that recognize this government," he said.
The Obama administration’s attitude vis-à-vis the Syrian opposition body it helped create in Doha earlier this week remains overtly ambivalent.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told Tuesday’s press briefing Washington recognized the National Coalition as a legitimate representative, but stopped short of describing it as a sole representative, saying the group must first demonstrate its ability to represent Syrians inside the country.
Here is how Toner put it:
“We did issue a statement the other day congratulating the representatives of the Syrian people who gathered in Doha for their formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. 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.
“Obviously, we’re going to work with them in the coming days to ensure that our humanitarian and nonlethal assistance serves the needs of the Syrian people. In answer to your – in direct answer to your question, what happens now or what are you looking for next, I think we now have a structure in place that can prepare for a political transition, but that 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, both nonlethal and humanitarian…
“We do think this is a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, that it does reflect the Syrian people, as we talked about, that diverse group of Syrian people. We think it meets those needs. I think as we move forward though, we’re going to look to see it, as I said, finalize the establishment of its organizational structures. We also want to see that it has a demonstrated ability to represent Syrians within Syria. I think that’s another aspect we’re going to look at…”
The United Kingdom was far more evasive than the United States.
British Foreign Minister William Hague, speaking at the Arab League in Cairo on the same day as Hollande and Toner, said the opposition Coalition must gain support from within Syria.
"That is a very crucial consideration, and if they do these things well then yes we would then be able to recognize them as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people," he said.
France has now gone further than even the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in their respective recognitions of the opposition Coalition.
While Paris recognized it as “the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” the League of Arab states described it simply as “the legitimate representative and principal interlocutor with the Arab League.”
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) grouping Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman spoke softheartedly of the new Syrian body as “the legitimate representative of the brotherly Syrian people.”