At the conclusion of the NSF conference in London, a press conference was held where Abdel Halim Khaddam, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, and other members of the secretariat general spoke to the media. Here are some excerpts from the press conference (Arabic. "Free Syria," 6/6/06).
Asked about the mechanisms of change and the issue of foreign intervention, Khaddam answered: "The Front's manifesto is clear: change must be from within and by the Syrian people. We will not invite any Arab or international power to interfere in the process of change. ... We will not drag ourselves or others into creating complicated circumstances in the region. Change will be peaceful and not through bloodletting or armed revolution." However, he said that the NSF would discuss these things in its institutions, not in the media, as publicizing them would cause harm to people inside Syria. He added that it is the people who will be leading the movement for change.
Khaddam stressed that "those who believe that change will lead to disturbances and instability are saying that we remain under authoritarianism and under economic hardship and unemployment, and that hundreds should remain in jail, and that freedoms should remain absent."
Responding to a question about sectarianism and the need to put at ease the Alawites and other sects and minorities, Khaddam said that the Front "is not sectarian. It represents the political currents that exist in Syria." As for the absence of Alawite names in the Front, Khaddam clarified that "there are Alawites in the Front, but out of concern for them and their families, their names were not publicized. When the temporary government is declared, it will include names from all the sects." He added, "The regime is trying to scare the Alawite community in order to hide behind it ... [but the regime's] persecution has included the Alawites."
Commenting on the same issue, Bayanouni said, "The regime is trying to incite civil strife and to give the illusion that the Alawite community is targeted." He added, "We don't follow the method of takfir (labeling people infidels)... The Alawites are our brothers along with all the sects that belong to Islam. ... The Alawites are our partners in the homeland. It's natural for the regime to spread fear in the community. Bashar Assad is saying 'either me or [sectarian] strife' in order to hide behind [the threat of] strife."
Khaddam added, "Every sect has its rites, and all are united by Islam. Muslims also complement Christians in the framework of national unity. ... There will be no [sectarian] strife, and the regime will go."
On the Kurdish issue, Khaddam said that it was discussed and decisions were made that would solve the problem. "We realize there is a problem and the Front will work on solving it."
Salah Badreddine, a Kurdish member of the NSF secretariat general, commented on the Kurdish issue and said, "Our desire was to see the conference adopt a number of the issues we raised, but since the conference is a coalition, and there were many reservations, we ended up agreeing on the common principles." He added, "I would have liked [for the conference] to support the the political process in Iraq and to support the federalist style of government in Iraq, but some of the brothers expressed their reservations, and so it did not appear in the concluding statement."
Asked about the right for self-determination, Badreddine said, "We are a front, and there are common agendas. Our common goal is democratic change in Syria and a new constitution that meets the ambitions of all the constituents of the Syrian people." He added, "Any people in the world, including the Kurdish people, have the right for self-determination." The NSF conference's concluding statement made reference to "the glaring injustice that has befallen the Kurdish citizens," and said that it should be addressed "within the framework of national unity and citizens' rights, as well as the ability to exercise political, cultural, economic and social rights, like all the other elements and constituents of the Syrian people, as will be specified in the new constitution." (Arabic. An-Nahar, via "Free Syria," 6/6/06).
On relations with Lebanon Khaddam said, "the Front's manifesto made reference to Lebanon's independence and to the establishment of a relation based on equality without any form of interference. This is translated through establishing diplomatic relations."
On relations with other factions in the opposition, Bayanouni reiterated the commitment to the principles of the Damascus Declaration. Furthermore, he said that membership in the Front does not restrict members from seeking other alliances so long as they do not contradict the Front's principles, and the Front "does not abandon the framework of the principles of the Damascus Declaration." He did admit to differences with some of the Damascus Declaration (DD) groups, confirming that the DD had nothing to do with the NSF. However both the NSF and the Damascus Declaration parties did agree that the current regime is not reformable, and therefore "change is the demand of everyone." The NSF has stressed in the concluding statement that it was "not an alternative to any national opposition group including the Damascus Declaration which the cornerstone of the national opposition movement." The statement also declared its solidarity with the political prisoners in Syria.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood's view of secular liberal parties and democracy, Bayanouni said, "We stressed in our ["Document of the National] Project [for Change"] on peaceful rotation in power and cooperation with others." As for democracay, Bayanouni added, "we are calling for it as a strategic, not a tactical, option. .. We have participated in Parliament and cabinets in the past."
As for whether there were plans to form a government in exile, Bayanouni said, "There is no intention to form a government. At a certain stage, in order not to have a power vacuum, it may be possible to form a government in cooperation with all the other parties." The NSF concluding statement suggested forming a transitional government with the rest of the national political forces for a maximum period of six months, "when the time is right." This government would adopt the 1950 constitution and would work within its framework until a new consitution was written. It would also abolish emergency laws and would return citizenship to those from whom it was stripped for political reasons.