US identifying 'primarily political' leaders for possible role in Syrian opposition

Frustrated with the current leadership of the largely ineffective opposition movement against President Bashar Al-Assad, the State Department said Thursday it has identified individual Syrians who "show leadership" and is "bringing them to the attention" of opposition members who will gather November 7 in Doha, Qatar.

"This is primarily political leadership. People who can not only organize but provide services. Because what this really is about is the day after, and the day will come when Assad falls, and there needs to be in place structures that can provide governance and services to the people," said Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy State Department spokesman.

U.S. officials, including the Ambassador to Syria currently working in Washington, have met the individuals in several ways, an administration official told CNN.

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These include opposition conferences, governance training sessions run by the United States in Istanbul, and through recommendations by other opposition members.

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The focus, the official said, is on people with political and administrative skills, not military skills. Although some of them, the official said, may have fought against the government as part of the opposition.

The United States says the current leadership, the Syrian National Council, has failed to unite the opposition.

Ventrell directly criticized the group, comprised largely of ex-pat Syrians, saying that "after many months, (it) has not succeeded in broadening its leadership -- not to more insiders, not ethnically and not geographically.

"Meanwhile, we and our friends of the Syrian people, have encountered individuals who have already displayed leadership and want to be part of Syria's future."

There is a "sense of urgency," Ventrell said. U.S. officials have said they are concerned that radicals might try to hijack the revolution with the opposition mired in its own politics.

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"We are bringing these people to the attention of the Doha participants," he said. "We're not choosing anyone. Only the Syrian people can do that. Helping bring attention to a broader pool of candidates for the Syrian people to consider for potential leadership."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week that the Syrian National Council should no longer be considered the "visible leader" of the opposition movement, that many of its members have not been back to Syria in "20, 30 or 40 years" and there must be a "representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today."

The United States is anxious to avoid looking as if it is orchestrating the Doha opposition conference. Ventrell said Ambassador Robert Ford and his team will be there "on the sidelines" of the meeting.

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