Newly elected president of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmad Jarba will attend Geneva II, with preconditions, he said on Monday, also claiming his interview with the New York Times "taken out of context."
Jarba has denied comments in the New York Times report that said he would participate in the peace conference in Geneva "with representatives of President Bashar Assad, without preconditions."
Jarba was addressing the Coalition to clarify the controversial interview.
A source told Zaman al-Wasl in Istanbul last week that Jarba didn't say he would attend Geneva II.
"Jarba's words had been taken out of context," the source said at the time.
Jarba said in his interview in New York that he wanted assurances that there would be a deadline for making progress for the talks.
“We believe there should be a precise time frame,” Jarba told the newspaper.
“The regime is used to manipulating the process and wasting time.”
Jarba, who met last week with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said that he would not propose a specific deadline until the talks were closer at hand.
But Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian opposition member who participated in the meeting, said that the opposition believes “Geneva must accomplish something in the first six months.”
Jarba "told Kerry clearly that [there must be] no Bashar Assad in the new transitional government, nor any officials from the Syrian regimen who were involved in the Syrian bloodshed," the source said.
“We will lose all credibility if the regime draws us into three or four years of talks, which have no substance,” Ghalioun said.
Jarba also described the military situation in Homs as “extremely difficult,” but “not impossible.”
Jarba is a leader of the Shammar tribe, which has branches in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Ghalioun said the opposition had told Kerry in their meeting that steps needed to include an end to artillery attacks, airstrikes and missile launches by the government forces.
That, he said, prompted Kerry to ask what the resistance might do in return, an important question as the opposition Coalition does not control all the rebel groups, especially extremist factions like the Nusra Front.
Ghalioun said that the opposition would renounce the use of chemical weapons, which American officials say the rebels neither possess nor can access.
Jarba said that Kerry had suggested the opposition could put Assad on the defensive politically by attending the talks. But Jarba said he had little confidence that the Geneva talks would yield a breakthrough.
“I believe Geneva might happen," he said. “But will it produce a political solution? This is the question. I am not overwhelmingly optimistic because I know how this regime thinks.”
Meanwhile, 29 members of the Coalition have joined the veteran dissident Haitham Maleh in a petition claiming that elections for the body's political commission election and its new expansion are invalid.
The petition came after a letter was published by Zaman al-Wasl by the head of legal committee, Maleh, who criticized "polarization" within the National Coalition.
Maleh says he is disappointed by the latest expansion, which is not legal according to the Coalition's laws and constitution.
The Sheikh of lawyers, as he is known, Maleh said it was a shock to read a statement saying the Coalition will meet representatives Assad without preconditions.
"We shouldn't remain silent on such statements," he said.
The outspoken former detainee has asked why the Coalition members used to criticize Sheikh Mouaz al-Khatib, former coalition president, "and now we don't hear a word regarding the abuses made by members."
Khatib shared the letter Maleh wrote on his Facebook page.
The Arabic poetry translated as: "Injustice by brothers in blood is more bitter than injustice by enemies, and more heartbreaking."
Jarba said he does not want to raise arguments within the Coalition, and that he is more diplomatic – tending to "catch the stick from the middle," a reliable source in the Coalition said.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer