Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syria Wants to Talk to Opposition Leaders, but There Aren't Any

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syria Wants to Talk to Opposition Leaders, but There Aren't Any

Article excerpt

Western diplomats say that some members of Syria's Assad regime are ready to reach out, but a dearth of visible leaders gives those advocating force the upper hand.

The beleaguered Syrian authorities are seeking negotiations with opposition leaders to end six weeks of unprecedented street protests that threaten to topple the Assad regime, according to Western diplomatic sources. They say that Bouthaina Shaaban, a top adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, has been placed in charge of exploring ways to launch a dialogue.

But amid a harsh crackdown on protesters, a rising death toll, and reports of thousands of people detained and missing, the regime is struggling to find anyone in the opposition who wants to talk.

"We say no to negotiations, at least until the secret police are gone from Syria. And when the secret police goes, then the regime will go as well," says Rami Nakhle, a Syrian opposition activist in Beirut.

'There is no one who can speak on behalf of the opposition'

A European ambassador in Damascus says that the hard-line elements in the regime appeared to have the upper hand for now in attempting to suppress the uprising by force.

"There are some [members of the regime] who want to talk to the opposition, but they keep telling us they have no one to talk to," the ambassador says.

The opposition has no credible, publicly visible figurehead or leadership group that can appeal across Syria's complicated sectarian and ethnic divides.

Opposition leaders consist mainly of aging secular intellectuals, exiled former members of the Assad regime and Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood, and young, technologically savvy activists who are using social networking sites to mobilize and publicize the protest movement.

"There is no one in Syria who can speak on behalf of the opposition and this is better for us," says Mr. Nakle, the opposition activist. "There is no point in negotiating with these people."

Assad's rule marked by 'incompetence' - diplomat

When protests erupted in mid-March, the demands were restricted to political and economic freedoms rather than regime change. …

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