World and Nation

Syrian opposition meets to seek unity in Doha on Thursday

DOHA, Qatar — The quarrelsome Syrian opposition was locked in extended bartering here in Doha on Thursday over the creation of a more diverse yet unified umbrella organization that its foreign backers hope will become a credible alternative to the Damascus government.

The basic goal was to create an executive body, including members within Syria and abroad, that could channel aid to nascent local governments in opposition-controlled areas, bolstering their hold over territory wrested from the Syrian government.

If the plan works, supporters say, it will help push back against the chaos in which jihadi organizations thrive and persuade foreign governments — particularly a second Obama administration — to get invested more directly in the opposition’s success.

“We have to find a way out of the cul-de-sac that we are in,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a former confident of President Bashar Assad’s turned opposition activist. “We need to find a solution so that the Syrian opposition can deal with the international community through one executive body, rather than everyone with his own opinion, his own agenda and his own allies.”

The meeting in Doha represented a shift in tactics after expectations were not met that the Syrian National Council would become a sort of government in exile. The change was pushed by the United States and Qatar, which have called for Assad to step down and pledged material support for the rebels. Without a unified opposition, various foreign supporters — Qataris, Saudis, Turks, French, Americans — have fostered different groups, allowing them to survive but without the critical mass needed to create an effective counterweight to the Syrian government.

If the opposition needed a reminder of the stakes, Assad provided one with a rare interview, telling the satellite channel Russia Today that he was not leaving the country.

“I am not a puppet,” he said in excerpts published on the channel’s website. “I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country. I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”

Asked about possible armed intervention, Assad said he did not expect the West to invade, “but if they do so, nobody can tell what is next.”

The price of an invasion “if it happened is going to be more than the whole world can afford,” he said in an excerpt.

The station said the full interview would be broadcast Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pronounced the Syrian National Council a failure late last month. She said the United States and its partners would help the opposition unite “behind a shared, effective strategy that can resist the regime’s violence”.