U.S. Said to Push Syrian Opposition Group to Attend Rome Meeting

The U.S. is urging Syria’s political opposition to reverse a decision to boycott an international meeting in Rome, where the U.S. and allies will meet Feb. 28 to discuss support for those fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian Opposition Council announced its decision Feb. 22 to protest the international community’s “shameful” position on violence that has wracked the country for almost two years, leaving almost 70,000 people dead. The SOC, an umbrella group, also canceled planned visits to the U.S. and Russia.

The decision reflects long-standing rifts within the opposition movement, particularly between those representing rebels politically, who favor international engagement, and those doing the actual fighting, who back the protest, a U.S. official said today. The decision to boycott the Rome meeting also robs the opposition of a chance to get greater support, said the official, who asked for anonymity to discuss diplomatic issues.

The group has an opportunity in Rome to see countries that have been their greatest supporters and to make the case for what further support they need and why, said the official, who spoke as Secretary of State John Kerry flew to London to begin a 10-day trip across Europe and the Middle East.

Kerry will discuss the crisis in Syria, as well as developments in North Africa and nuclear tensions with Iran in stops to London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Ankara, Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

The official said the Syrian opposition leadership is under severe pressure now from its membership to get more support from the international community. In that context, the official said, there’s quite a bit of discussion within the Syrian opposition about the value of going to international conferences.

The U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, will travel to Cairo tonight to meet the opposition coalition in advance of the Rome meeting to make the case for visiting Rome, the official said.

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