Canada holds off recognizing Syrian opposition, Baird says

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada is holding off recognizing the Syrian opposition coalition as the sole representative of the country, even as the list of countries making that distinction grows.

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CBC interview with Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird 8:23

Canada is holding off recognizing the Syrian opposition coalition as the sole representative of the country, even as the list of countries making that distinction grows to include the United States.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, speaking Wednesday from Marrakech, Morocco, where he is at a meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People, said his country recognizes the opposition has made "a significant accomplishment. We recognize they are representative.

"I guess the difference for Canada is: Are they the sole representative. Are we basically recognizing them as a de facto government?

 "Canada has not made that decision yet," Baird said. "Not all countries here have."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at the meeting in Morocco that more than 100 countries have now recognized the opposition coalition as the Syrian people's sole representative.

Late Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said the Syrian opposition coalition, which was formed in November, "is now inclusive enough" to be deemed the  sole "legitimate representative."

Canadian concerns about opposition

Baird said he met with representatives of the Syrian opposition "to get a sense  from them where they were going and how they saw things moving forward."

Canada, Baird said, still has some concerns about the opposition, such as its ability to send clear messages and include the coalition's religious minorities.

Additionally, Canada remains insistent that no extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda get involved with the council, he said.

Baird said he would take what he gathered at the meeting back to Ottawa for discussions with the prime minister and the cabinet.

The conflict in Syria began almost two years ago. Activists estimate about 40,000 lives have been lost.

Baird said the conflict "could drag on for many more months."

"Our hope is that [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] will realize he's fighting a losing  battle, that it's just a matter of time.

"We hope that his key allies, particularly Russia and Iran, will see the writing on the wall as well.

"But at this stage, you know, for more than a year people have thought this could be concluded in a few weeks," Baird added. "I've never been of that view. When it comes, it will certainly come very quickly, but I'm just not able to forecast just how soon it can come. There's no doubt that its support from its key allies have allowed them to soldier on a lot longer than people anticipated a year ago."

In Marakech, Syrian opposition spokesman Walid al-Bunni called on the international community for "real support" and not just recognition. The opposition has been pushing for increased support, including military materials.

"We need not only bread to help our people," opposition member Saleem Abdul Aziz al Meslet said. "We need support for our Syrian army. We need to speed up things and get rid of this regime."

With files from The Associated Press