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Rundown: The Pre-Marrakesh Moment

On Wednesday the US-led Friends of Syria group meets in Marrakesh, Morocco, in what could be a key diplomatic turning point in the crisis. Here’s a rundown of some things to know going into the week.

Written by Lara Setrakian Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Key Moves:

• The US and Russia met on Sunday, for the second time in a week, in talks convened by the UN. They’re trying to find common ground – since the start of the Syrian uprising they’ve disagreed sharply, with Russia backing the Assad regime and the US backing the rebels. That’s blocked the international community from a broad-based solution to the crisis. One European diplomat tells Syria Deeply Russia is softening its position behind closed doors, which could pave the way for a diplomatic breakthrough.

• The Syrian National Coalition met in Cairo to decide on a prime minister and plan for what could be a transitional government. This weekend the coalition’s leader, Moaz al Khatib, gave an address on YouTube that urged all Syrians to unite. He called out the largest ethnic and religious groups in the country, and delivered a specific salute to women.

• Syria’s armed opposition – another word for the rebel fighters – agreed to form a military command to be known as the Supreme Military Council. That’s a potentially major step forward in uniting what had been a diverse and decentralized group of brigades around the country.

What to Watch for Next:

• A key question for the Marrakesh meeting: will the US formally recognize the Syrian opposition? It’s a diplomatic decision that carries much weight. Coalition Vice President Suhair al Atassi told Syria Deeply it’s the step that would pave the way for a transitional government, to be established in Northern Syria.

NATO, the military alliance that includes the US and its Western allies, is deploying Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border. According to Turkey’s Zaman newspaper those six patriot batteries will mean 600 NATO troops would soon be on Syria’s doorstep.

Other Threads:

• There’s no guarantee that an opposition supported by foreign powers will be accepted by the people of Syria. Riyad al Turk, an influential anti-Assad voice inside Syria, spoke out in an interview on Friday, criticizing the National Coalition’s prospects for support on the ground.

• Battles are still churning around the country, fueling the growing influence of jihadi groups like Jabhat al Nusra. They don’t take orders from political leaders in the opposition, and there’s no clear strategy for reigning them in.

• There is still support for the Assad regime from his core loyalists, who’ve stuck with him this far in the fight. Analyst Ayham Kamel of Eurasia Group tells us Assad could still have weeks or even months left in power. In other words, even though the rebels have made gains, don’t assume this is necessarily the final days of Assad’s regime.

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