(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) Syria's Opposition Coalition's US office has been recognized as a Foreign Mission, with Washington granting it "enhanced status" and "certain facilities and responsibilities" in the country, but not diplomatic immunity, a senior State Department official announced Monday.
The new status does not mean the SOC is being recognized as the official government of Syria.
"It is a reflection of our partnership with the SOC as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people," said the official, who spoke on background. "And we do believe and, I think, more importantly they believe that it will facilitate their outreach to the Syrian diaspora and the broader American public in the United States." The SOC was initially recognized as the "legitimate representative" of Syrians in December 2012.
The embassy tied to the Bashar Al-Assad regime here was ordered closed on March 18, coinciding with the third anniversary of the uprising.
In a statement, SOC President Ahmad Jarba called today's move "a diplomatic blow against Assad's legitimacy.
"This is an important step in the path toward a new Syria, its recognition on the international stage, and its relations with Syrian nationals in the US," he said. "The new status provides a diplomatic platform for the Coalition to advance the interests of the Syrian people at all levels.
"We pledge to Syrians that we will not take this status lightly," he added. "We intend to use this recognition as a diplomatic platform to represent the Syrian people, to advocate for services and assistance to benefit the millions of Syrians inside and outside the country who are in need, and to push for an end to the killing as soon as possible." Rime Allaf, an adviser to Jarba, told KUNA that as a Foreign Mission, the SOC will have "more regulated access to US officials," and that the timing of the announcement is "hugely important," particularly as Syria prepares for what she called "a farce of an election" on June 3.
Her comments echo those of the US, with the senior official referring to the vote as "hollow" and "phony.
"Staging these elections under these types of conditions, which are basically intentionally denying the vote to millions of Syrian citizens, whether they're in Syria or outside, and ignores the calls for change and will -- it's basically failing to bring the Syrian people will closer to the kind of negotiated political solution they seek," he stressed.
Jarba, along with the Free Syrian Army's new Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Abdulilah Al-Bashir, arrived in Washington for eight days of meetings with US officials this week, including John Kerry and members of Congress, as well as the Syrian-American community.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters the Obama Administration is "pleased to welcome the delegation," as its new status demonstrates America's "steadfast commitment to empower the moderate Syrian opposition and to bolster its efforts to assist those in need inside Syria." Such diplomatic recognition would also "formally facilitate banking and security services" for the SOC, she explained.
A further USD 27 million in "non-lethal assistance" to the SOC is currently being negotiated with Congress, and if approved, would bring the total amount to USD 287 million pledged by the US this year. More than USD 1.7 billion has been pledged in total since the crisis began.
In addition, the US is "stepping up deliveries of nonlethal assistance to commanders in the Free Syrian Army to enhance their logistical capability," Harf said.