Syrian opposition may boycott first meeting with Sec. of State Kerry

In this Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, photo, Syrian rebels clean an anti-aircraft gun, while commanders Ahmed Abdel Kader Samia, second right, and Rami Bitar, center, talk at their headquarters in Maaret Ikhwan, Syria. The new Syrian rebel chief, a defected army general who spent months in exile, says he has begun operating inside Syria to unite autonomous anti-regime militias for what he hopes will be the final push against President Bashar Assad.
AP Photo

The Syrian Opposition may boycott their first opportunity to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry, despite his efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria and the Obama administration's longtime support of a political transition away from the Assad regime.

Moaz al-Khatib is the man chosen to lead a newly formed coalition of Syria's opposition groups.
Moaz al-Khatib
CBS News

Kerry is supposed to meet with Moaz al-Khatib, president of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces, in Rome on Thursday.

A senior U.S. administration official said the Syrian Opposition leadership is under "severe pressure" from its membership to "get more support from the international community." The U.S. official was not authorized to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters publicly and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity.

Certain members of the opposition - including fighters within Syria - are questioning the "value of going to international conferences" as violence rages within the country.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is en route to Cairo Sunday night to meet with Syrian opposition leaders and to persuade them to "make their case" to the new U.S. secretary of state for the support that they need from the U.S. and its allies. Al Khatib currently lives in exile in Cairo.

The senior U.S. official pointed out that attending the conference is an " see the very countries that have been their greatest supporters, and to come and present to all of us how they see the situation on the ground, both in security terms, humanitarian terms, and in political terms and economic terms."

Obama administration officials have often recognized the severity of the violence within Syria, especially that which has hit the cities of Aleppo and Damascus particularly hard in the past week.

During the past two years of conflict, the U.S. and its European allies have officially maintained that they only will provide non-lethal assistance to the rebel groups known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA.) Recently, a prominent FSA general submitted a new proposal requesting a form of military support that is under consideration in Washington. Leaders in London and Paris have also hinted that they would be willing to do more to assist the rebels who are trying to force President Bashar al Assad from power.

All diplomatic efforts to broker a political transition in Syria have failed over the past two years. The new U.S. secretary of state is trying to break that pattern with a series of high-level meetings this week throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Kerry will meet with one of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's few remaining allies -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- in Berlin before heading to the Rome conference. Later this week, he'll round out the trip by visiting Turkey, which has absorbed most of the Syrian refugee hemorrhage, and then visit leaders in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, all of whom have provided material support to the rebels.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Margaret Brennan is moderator of CBS News' "Face The Nation" and CBS News' senior foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.