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Syrian Opposition Takes Issue with Jimmy Carter Peace Initiative

By Melanie Batley   |   Thursday, 11 Jul 2013 03:56 PM

Former President Jimmy Carter is planning to send officials from his foundation into Syria in a last-ditch attempt to negotiate peace between the government and opposition forces.

However, the rebels have taken issue with the plan, believing it could send the wrong message to President Bashar al-Assad that the United States is willing to negotiate with him instead of overthrowing his regime, according to Foreign Policy Magazine.

Two senior staff members from the Carter Center will be in Syria from July 28 to Aug. 9 for a series of talks and meetings with Assad opponents and loyalists. In response to the opposition's criticism of the talks, the organization has stressed that it is operating independently of the U.S. government, whose policies it has openly criticized.

The Carter Center has advocated for all foreign powers to cease sending arms into Syria and has opposed the American stance of calling for the overthrow of the regime, arguing "Assad is not the problem in Syria."

"As long as outside actors continue to arm the various sides, it's very difficult to see any political solution emerging," Hrair Balian, director of the Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program, who will participate in the meetings, told Foreign Policy Magazine.

In 2011, the center unsuccessfully attempted to broker concessions from the regime. Opposition supporters told the magazine that several members who met with Carter's representatives at the time were subsequently arrested and imprisoned by the government.

"I think the United States made a huge mistake early on by deciding that Assad had to go," Robert Pastor, Carter's former national security advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean who participated in the 2011 trip, told the magazine.

"The U.S. unwittingly encouraged the opposition by making them think we're going to come to their rescue, which gave them a jolt of support," he added. "They're never going to be strong enough to overcome Assad's army."

To date, almost 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. While a significant majority of Americans believe it is not in the national interest to send troops into Syria, and also oppose arming rebel groups in the conflict, according to a poll released Thursday, almost 50 percent say they would support targeted drone strikes or cruise missile attacks against the Syrian government.

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