Final preparations are being made for the international Friends of Syria meeting, which will be held Friday in Gammarth, a suburb north of Tunis.
The meeting will bring together foreign ministers and dignitaries from around the world, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton. Additionally, over 400 Journalists are expected to cover the one-day event.
The Friends of Syria group was formed following the failure of the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution calling on the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step down. Despite broad international support, the resolution was vetoed by both Russia and China on the grounds that it would potentially open the door to military intervention and regime change.
In the wake of frustrations at this impasse in the UN Security Council, Tunisia offered to host the group’s inaugural meeting, which aims to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed Syria in recent months and cost the lives of over 6000 people.
Intergovernmental discussions in preparation for the meeting are purportedly focusing on a possible ultimatum to Al-Assad to allow humanitarian aid into besieged cities. However, it is not clear if participants at the Friends of Syria conference will be able to reach a consensus on how to force Al-Assad to comply with their demands. Although political rhetoric has been ratcheted up in recent weeks, particularly following the deaths of two foreign journalists in the city of Homs on Wednesday, few countries appear to be favoring direct military intervention, according to numerous news sources.
Although invitation to the meeting was said to be open to all countries, Russia, China, Lebanon and Iran have all indicated they will not be participating. In addition there will be no representation from either the Syrian government or the main force opposing Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, the Free Syria Army.
For many observers, the success of the meeting – and the credibility of the Friends of Syria group as a whole – will rely on participants conceiving a set of concrete and achievable proposals that can be implemented in the coming days and brought to bear upon Al-Assad. Skeptics of the meeting’s effectiveness suggest that the recent escalation in violence in cities such as Homs is a clear sign that Al-Assad will continue to refuse to bow to diplomatic pressure. Clearly, the 3-week bombardment of of the restive Syrian city, and the chorus of international condemnation that has accompanied it, seems to have limited the window of opportunity to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
The conference is being presented as a diplomatic coup for Marzouki, who is keen to promote Tunisia as a country that can act as a bridge between the Arab world and Western states. Tunisia has managed to avoid many of the problems facing other Arab countries that have undergone recent revolutions even though endemic poverty, unemployment and corruption have still not fully been addressed in the post-Revolution period.
Tunisia Live will be providing comprehensive coverage from inside the event throughout the day, including a live coverage on our website and regular twitter and Facebook updates.