Friends of Syria recognize SNC as 'legitimate representative'
Earlier, the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) Burhan Ghalioun called on the international community to recognize the group as the Syrian peoples' sole representative.
"We demand serious action. The Syrian regime will inevitably fall. Don't prolong the catastrophe. The opposition is united; now it is time for you to unite and support the Syrian opposition," Ghalioun said at the opening.
France and Turkey were first to announce their readiness to recognize "the legitimate representative body of the Syrian people," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said ahead of the meeting.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gave an opening address, said Ankara has no intention of interfering in any other country’s internal policy. However, he claims that the Syrian government continues to repress the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.
Debate around Annan`s peace plan
The timeline for implementing Kofi Annan’s peace plan and how exactly it is going to be carried out also topped the meeting's agenda.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed doubts that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would fulfill the UN peace plan, and threatened Syrian authorities with “consequences” if they do not halt violence against civilians.
"Our message must be clear to those who give the orders and those who carry them out: Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face serious consequences," Clinton said while addressing the conference in Istanbul. She also blamed the Syrian government for breaking its promises despite its acceptance of Annan’s plan.
The plan calls for commitments to stop fighting, troop movements and the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. It also demands a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, release of arbitrarily detained people and free access for journalists.
The UN envoy is due to report the UN Security Council on Monday about the efforts to have his plan implemented.
More for the opposition
Ghalioun called for urgent relief aid, but his suggestions went beyond simply humanitarian support. Gulf countries announced the establishment of a multi-million dollar fund to financially support those fighting the Assad government.
The United States has said it will increase financial aid to the Syrian people. Clinton also announced that US agencies will provide the Syrian opposition with communications equipment.
Saudi Arabia, together with Qatar, has advocated arming the Syrian opposition for quite a long time. At the same time, there are concerns that arming the Free Syrian Army could spark sectarian violence in the country.
The FSA has pleaded with neighboring countries to help them acquire weapons. After meeting with Clinton, her Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faisal said “the arming of the [Syrian] opposition is a duty.”
Russia sticks to balanced approach
Moscow, which opted not to attend the conference, views the gathering as one-sided and questions its ability to push for dialogue.
There have also been charges that talks of arming the Syrian opposition discourage the peace process.
Moscow has pointed out that whatever the conference decides, it cannot speak on behalf of the international community or judge the implementation of Annan’s plan. Nor, the Kremlin says, can it be a replacement for the UN Security Council.
This means that without the support of the UN Security Council, any substantial decisions on Syria are highly unlikely.