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Syrian Opposition Tries To Reinvigorate Mission


Opposition groups working to bring down the regime in Syria are meeting in Doha, Qatar in a furious bid to reorganize and reinvigorate themselves. The aim is to form a legitimate government in exile that would be recognized by the international community. This new effort to bring together the Syrian opposition is strongly backed by the U.S. NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Doha and joins us to talk about it.

And let's start by you telling us exactly who is there.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: There are all kinds of people here, Renee. You've got diplomats from the so-called Friends of Syria group. That's countries that want to see the Syrian regime fall - the United States, France, Turkey, Qatar - which is the host of the event - and then you have a really wide swath of the Syrian opposition, mostly the Syrian opposition that's based outside of Syria.

The largest group represented here is the Syrian National Council. It was something that was formed in Turkey a year ago. It's dominated by the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. But it also includes secular players and folks from other backgrounds. They've actually just concluded a three-day conference where they're trying to expand their leadership.

But what's going on today is an effort to actually form an entirely new body. There's been a lot of criticism of the Syrian National Council that after 20 months they've been pretty ineffective. So today is a real effort to kind of try to come up with a new plan.

MONTAGNE: Well, and what would that plan be? I mean, this is a very mixed group. How are they proposing to change that?

MCEVERS: There are a lot of proposals on the table, but the main idea is to put together a kind of transitional government, a government in exile - something that could be recognized by the international community. Something that could, you know, take funding from different countries and funnel that money into Syria to help with relief work, reconstruction.

A body that could start, you know, sort of administering the areas of Syria that have been liberated by Syrian rebels, areas in the north along the Turkish border, for instance. There's no more state in these area, and they need some kind of governance.

I think they're also hoping that this body could be involved in some kind of political process to end the crisis in Syria. Right now, everybody agrees that the military solution isn't really working. It's a stalemate. So everybody's saying now that there's going to have to be some kind of political process, that some kind of negotiations are going to have to take place to resolve this.

MONTAGNE: And is there a rebel presence in this conference? Are rebel leaders there?

MCEVERS: Rebel leaders have not been invited to the conference. At one point it was thought that they would be here, but they are not. I think the Qatari hosts and the other diplomats want to focus just on the political process instead of the military process. But you've got a lot of criticism from the Syrian opposition, saying, well, we can't have a political process until we gain the upper hand, militarily. And to do that we need support for the rebels on the inside.

MONTAGNE: And finally, what is the U.S. role in this conference in all of this?

MCEVERS: You know, the United States in recent days - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been very critical of the Syrian National Council. They say, you know, again, after 20 months this body hasn't really gotten much accomplished. It's not really coalesced into something that could be recognized by the international community.

And their main criticism is that it does not represent those who oppose the government on the inside of Syria. That it's mainly a group of people who are based outside of Syria. So they're really pushing for something that's more inclusive and that would have more legitimacy with Syrians on the inside of Syria, going forward.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Kelly McEvers speaking to us from Qatar. Thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.