Home inContext Syrian Opposition Gains Diplomatic Victory

Syrian Opposition Gains Diplomatic Victory

Alex Finkelstein

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) announced on Monday that the U.S. government has granted the organization foreign mission status. The move upgrades their Washington and New York offices to carry the same designation as other non-government delegations. The SNC will now be able to conduct business transactions in U.S. markets and also contact Syrians living in the U.S.

The SNC is an alliance of anti-Assad groups that the U.S. first recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in 2012. However, coalition president Ahmad Jarba is making his first visit to Washington just this week. Six weeks ago, the Obama administration finally closed the Syrian embassy and expelled officials with ties to President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian opposition representative Ahmad Jabra attends the start of peace talks in Montreux, Switzerland earlier this year. (Photo: EPA)

The administration’s decision does not grant full diplomatic recognition to the coalition; for example, SNC officials have not gained diplomatic immunity and are not recognized as the government of Syria. While establishing a foreign mission does boost the opposition’s credibility, the victory is mostly symbolic and administrative.

Along with the change in diplomatic status, the U.S. is also conferring $27 million in non-lethal assistance to the SNC, bringing the total U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition to $278 million. However, the White House is conflicted about formally arming the rebels because the administrations worries that such weapons may reach extremists. Rebel forces have received U.S. made ‘tube launched, optically tracked and wire guided’ (TOW) anti-tank weapons. U.S. officials declined to discuss how the rebels procured the dated anti-tank launchers, opting only to confirm that they had them.

Overall, recent political gains in the West have not transferred into military success for the SNC in Syria itself. The Assad regime continues to make advances around Damascus and in the western part of the country with the help of Hezbollah fighters and Russian weapons. Rebel forces retreated from the besieged city of Homs this week after a prolonged battle. Homs had been under rebel control since 2011 and was an important gain for the rebels in the nascent stages of the civil war.