(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) The President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) Ahmad Jarba on Wednesday stressed the need for more sophisticated weaponry to combat the Syrian air force which "burns and bombards civilians on a daily basis." Speaking through a translator at the US Institute for Peace, Jarba said the only way to move forward with a political process and engage the regime of Bashar Al-Assad is by gaining leverage on the battlefield - but this has become increasingly difficult as the regime's air raids intensify.
"We need to eliminate the burning barrels that fall on our people," he said. "We need efficient weapons in order to try and face the air raids and other regime attacks to change the balance of forces on the ground." "The air force makes the life of Syrians a nightmare," he added.
Jarba is on his first visit to Washington, an eight-day trip that involves meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and officials at the Department of State. He expressed his gratitude to the Obama Administration for its support of the SOC as well as the Syrian people, and gave assurances that any transfers of new, complex armaments from the U.S. to the Free Syrian Army will not fall into the wrong hands. "We do not want lots of weapons in an unorganized way," he said. "We need efficient weapons in the right hands, the hands of professionals, and we commit to keep them in the right hands." "This is the only way to bring back stability," he added.
Jarba also called on all foreign fighters to leave Syria, many of whom are affiliated with fringe groups and do not reflect the aspirations of Syrians, even if those groups are also fighting the regime, he observed.
"Now we have foreign ideas that are stranger[s] to Syrians," he said. "Syrians do not know terrorism." "Al-Qaeda now exists in Syria because the regime released [their members] from prison," he stated, claiming that these are the same operatives that Al-Assad sent "to blow up American soldiers on the streets of Baghdad." "Terrorism is the product of the regime," he continued. "There is strong cooperation between Bashar and ISIL." The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also referred to as ISIS, with the last 'S' denoting Al-Sham in Arabic, began as an Al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria and Iraq, but has since distanced itself from Al-Qaeda's central command.
Jarba insisted that the group is made up of foreign elements, and the Free Syrian Army has been fighting them on the ground while also being shelled by the regime from the skies. But despite the fall of Homs once again into the hands of Al-Assad earlier in the day, the FSA have had substantial victories, he argued.
"We liberated Hama and Idlib" from ISIL, Jarba proclaimed. "Our brothers in Deir Ez-Zor are fighting fierce battles against ISIL." "It's a common interest between us and the West, but it's also a Syrian national interested to be rid of ISIL," he added.
Another group he described as "extremist," the Al-Nusra Front, is fighting against the regime, but Jarba said the SOC does not "recognize or accept" them. The U.S. Department of State has designated the group, alongside ISIL, as a terrorist organization.
"Syrians are a moderate people," he noted. "We want all foreign militias to leave Syria." Jarba said the SOC has already requested the UN Security Council to issue a Chapter 7 binding resolution to have foreign forces withdrawn from the country, be they branches of Al-Qaeda, or Hezbollah and Iran loyalists, who are backing Al-Assad.
"Iran is a sponsor of Hezbollah and requested them to fight," he explained. "Hezbollah has no interest in Syria [otherwise]." Jarba pointed to Iran's refusal to agree to the conditions of Geneva I as indication that "Iran wants the crisis to go on." "We respect the Iranian people, who come from a great civilization, but we have a problem with their rulers and the Mullahs," he continued. "If Iran changes its position, we are open to any peaceful initiative." As a regime-mandated presidential election approaches on June 3, Jarba reiterated the SOC's stance that diplomacy is not possible while Al-Assad is in the running. "If we want to end this tragedy we must speak in one voice against the nomination of this criminal for the presidency and to open the door for a political solution where Bashar is not part of the equation, Bashar does not own Syria, we do not own Syria," he said.
"Syria is the property of all Syrians. We need an interim government to supervise new elections," he affirmed.
Jarba's remarks on Wednesday marked his first public speech in the U.S. He is expected to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday.