Britain hopes to decide within days whether to recognise new Syrian opposition, says William Hague
Foreign Secretary William Hague today hailed a potential turning point for Syria as he met the leaders of a coalition opposed to president Bashar Assad.
After initial talks in London, he said he was "encouraged" by what he heard from them and that Britain would like to recognise them as the official Syrian opposition. A decision would be made over the coming days.
In a statement at the Foreign Office, Mr Hague said they had had a "detailed discussion" about the coalition's next steps.
"The formation of the coalition is a very encouraging development and I'm further encouraged by the discussions I've had with them this morning," he said.
"It's important and I've stressed to them that they respect minority rights, that they are inclusive of all communities in Syria, committed to a democratic future for the people of Syria, that in the face of a regime that has committed such abuse, violence and rape against the people of their own country that this coalition stands firmly against all of those things, that they uphold high standards of human rights, of international humanitarian law, preventing sexual violence, preventing abuse of prisoners.
"These things are very important to their future and to international support for them. I'm encouraged by their response to that."
Mr Hague said the coalition leaders committed to reach out to all groups in Syria and to respect human rights.
"I hope that this meeting today will mark a turning point for the Syrian people and that it will begin the major steps towards a political transition in Syria," he said.
"So I'm encouraged by what I've heard and seen from the leaders of the coalition and I hope the discussions in London today will bring assistance to tens of thousands of people suffering in Syria."
The Foreign Secretary said he would be making a further statement in the Commons next week.
"I've discussed with the coalition this morning the question of recognition. We would like to be able at an early stage to recognise them as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, one or two countries have already done so," he said.
"I wanted to meet them myself before the UK takes that step. We need their assurances about being inclusive of all communities, we need to see that they have genuine support within Syria.
"If we are going to take that important step of recognition we should do so in full possession of the facts and on the basis of discussions with them."
Mr Hague is the first European leader to meet the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which was formed from Syria's disparate opposition groups at a meeting in Doha last week.
Coalition president Sheikh Ahmed Mu'az Al-Khatib and vice-presidents Suheir Atassi and Riad Seif are attending the day-long London meeting, which sees officials from a raft of international nations working together to find ways of giving the group practical support.
Mr Hague said: "We are in a position where the future of Syria hangs in the balance.
"Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are under attack or are displaced from their homes, which gives real urgency to our discussions today."
He added: "The purpose of this meeting is to agree ways the international community can increase political and practical support.
"We should now be able to step up our efforts considerably because of the formation of Syria's new coalition of revolutionary opposition forces."
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