John Baird traveled to Africa yesterday, the sixth such visit during his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He will be attending the Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco tomorrow, a group of nations who support regime change in Syria. He will then be traveling to Tunisia for the G-8-BMENA Forum for the Future, a dialogue between G-8 countries and Arab partners.
Two key issues top the agenda at tomorrow’s Friends of Syria meeting: what a political transition will look like in the case of Assad’s fall, and how to address the growing humanitarian crisis in the coming winter months.
This is the first meeting since the formation of a new opposition leadership, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, last month in Doha. Turkey, Britain, France and all member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council have recognized the group as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Those backing the opposition are looking for other Western powers, most notably the United States, to do the same. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was expected to use tomorrow’s meeting to announce formal US recognition of the opposition, but was forced to cancel her trip due to an illness. It was widely speculated that Clinton would use tomorrow’s meeting to announce US recognition of the opposition group. Both the Liberals and NDP have urged the government to grant formal recognition to the new Syrian opposition, though it remains unclear whether the Conservative government plans to do so. With regards to the escalating conflict in Syria, John Baird has expressed ‘grave concern’ over recent reports that the al-Assad government may be gearing up to use chemical weapons against the rebels, but he would not confirm that Canada would be involved if there were to be an international military intervention.