PARIS (Reuters) - Western nations are not doing enough to pressure Russia into changing its stance on Syria and must do more to support the burgeoning opposition, the figurehead for the Syrian National Council (SNC) said on Friday.
Paris-based Burhan Ghalioun, considered the group’s de facto leader, told France 24 television the newly formed SNC hoped to get recognition from European countries once its structure is in place.
The European Union has welcomed the creation of the Syrian council and urged other countries to do the same, but stopped short of any call to recognize the body which is seeking international support for a six-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
France, the first Western country to recognize Libya’s opposition, has been championing the cause of pro-democracy protesters in Syria, leading calls for a U.N. Security Council resolution to condemn the government’s bloody crackdown on them.
In a symbolic display of support, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe met Ghalioun in Paris earlier this week.
“Juppe’s gesture was significant,” Ghalioun said. “The French will consult the other Europeans and we hope to have recognition from European countries later, but let’s wait a few days, weeks,” he said.
Ghalioun, an intellectual and political sociologist based at the Sorbonne university, was thrust into the limelight this year when peaceful protests against Assad’s government turned violent and demonstrators looked for somebody to help galvanize various strands of the opposition.
The 66-year old said the West could be more “aggressive” in its approach to Russia, which has refused to join international condemnation of Syria’s long crackdown on protesters and used its veto along with China to reject a draft U.N. resolution.
He also called for a conference bringing together the main stakeholders in the Syrian conflict.
“I think the European Union and Western countries have not done everything politically to convince Russia and other reticent countries,” Ghalioun said. “I don’t think there are strong enough positions and actions.”
Some figures inside Syria privately criticize the opposition in exile for being too ready to seek outside intervention.
Other issues dividing the opposition include ethnic and sectarian differences, disagreement over the place of religion in the state and a generational gap between veteran opposition figures and youth activists.
Michel Kilo, a member of the Syria-based National Committee for Democratic Change (NCDC) who has criticized the SNC for not including those in Syria, said on Tuesday he was ready to talk more to the council to avoid divisions that could play into the hands of Assad’s government.
“Today, there is the council and there are other opposition members and we will do everything to make sure there is just one voice,” Ghalioun said. “I don’t think the opposition is divided. I think the opposition is unanimous on one objective: the end of the regime and fall of Bashar al-Assad.”
Asked whether the SNC could take up arms if protests did not lead to the government’s collapse, Ghalioun dismissed the idea for now but said there was a risk of escalation.
“We are afraid of it ending up in civil war and anarchy so it’s up to show that a new Syria won’t be one of vengeance and revenge,” he said.