Syria Deeply caught up with Yaser Tabbara, a Syrian-American member of the opposition and one of the architects of the National Coalition. In an interview in Marrakesh he outlined the next steps beyond the Friends of Syria meeting, toward a transitional government.
SD: What comes next after this?
Tabbara: Well what we’re looking for is a recognition that has teeth… something that is implementable, something that the Syrian people can take to the bank.
SD: All these pledges [of aid money] don’t count?
Tabbara: They do count but we want them translated into immediate action. The Syrian population is living a humanitarian crisis right now. We’ve done a study that the cost of the management of the liberated areas is close to the neighborhood of about $500 million a month.
SD: And how much has been pledged now?
Tabbara: Well so far, what’s been pledged was strictly for the humanitarian issue and the biggest donor country today was Saudi Arabia with $100 million, which we’re very thankful for. The good news is that we have something called the Assistance Coordination Units, which will handle the distribution of that aid properly to the right people in a nonpolitical/non-politicized way. And we’re hoping that the aid gets to those in need ASAP.
SD: They did say in the statement we saw that they recognize the need for self defense. Does that mean there’s going to be help with weapons?
Tabbara: Again, these are excellent statements. The fourth conference of the Friends of the Syrian people basically saw a lot more aggressive language, a lot more helpful language. But we would like for that language to be translated into action. For example, we’re looking for the European Union to lift the arms embargo on the armed opposition so the armed opposition can be free to obtain anti-aircraft missiles, so they can enforce their own no-fly zone, which is the most important issue right now defensively.
SD: How soon would there be a move to set up a transitional government [inside Syria]?
Tabbara: Well the question of the government has been debated throughout the coalition for a while now and the general feeling is that though we are ready to announce some names for the government, we will not do so until we feel that the atmosphere is ready for it. We do not want to announce a government into a vacuum. We’d like to announce a government into a well-supported platform.
SD: So once the resources and security are set?
Tabbara: and we expect those to be set within the next few weeks hopefully.
SD: So there could be a transitional government in Syria within a month?
Tabbara: The question of whether this government will be operating from inside Syria hasn’t been determined yet and there are still many security issues to be resolved. The Assad regime is still flying their air force and bombarding everybody and anyone within the territories of Syria, so that is a real concern. What would need to happen is for the international community to empower the armed opposition through the coalition to enforce a no-fly zone, then a transitional government can be set on the ground.
SD: So it would be the armed opposition that enforces a no-fly zone with international help and support?
Tabbara: Through the coalition. You see the coalition is the political umbrella that the armed opposition functions through.
SD: You don’t want foreign powers to make the no-fly zone happen, you want the armed opposition to have the means to enforce it?
Tabbara: Absolutely not, the time for us calling for the international community to enforce our no fly-zone has passed. Right now we have revolutionaries on the ground that are at the doorsteps of Bashar Al-Assad’s presidential palace. This means that we are more than capable of enforcing our own no-fly zone should we have the sophisticated weaponry to do so. That is the last piece of the puzzle and we are asking the international community to empowers us to do so.
SD: Are you satisfied with what the US is doing right now, or what do they need to do to make that happen?
Tabbara: Again, the recognition that the US has given to the Syrian opposition is formidable. What we would like them to do is translate this recognition into action and facilitate the opposition getting the anti-aircraft missiles they need.
SD: Are they close? What’s the impediment?
Tabbara: Well what we heard from the Americans is that though they are not going to provide the weapons themselves, they will not object to that happening should that take place.
SD: So it’s just a matter of time and funding?
Tabbara: Correct, it’s a matter of time and funding