Global media is widely reporting that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has held a meeting on Tuesday with members of the Syrian National Council that included a Syrian-American professor known to have served in the past as a point of contact between White House officials and the Syrian opposition. According to an AP report:
GENEVA (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a rare meeting on Tuesday with Syrian opposition figures as the Obama administration returned its top envoy to Damascus, both signs the U.S. is increasing pressure on the Bashar Assad regime and looking ahead to a time when he is gone. Ambassador Robert Ford had been recalled from Damascus six week ago because of threats on him and rising violence. In Geneva, Clinton told a group of seven Syria n pro-reform activists that she wanted to hear their plans to establish a new democratic government if they are successful in prying Assad from power. Her invitation was a step short of endorsement, but a clear sign the U.S. wants to work closely with those who might assume leadership roles. “Obviously, a democratic transition is more than removing the Assad regime. It means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law,” Clinton told the activists who are all exiles in Europe and belong to the Syrian National Council, one of several umbrella groups for Assad foes. Tuesday’s meeting marked only the second time Clinton has held an in-person session with members of the Syrian opposition since President Barack Obama called for Assad to step down in August amid a still ongoing brutal crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators. “We certainly believe that if Syrians unite, they together can succeed in moving their country to that better future,” Clinton told the group. Reporters heard her greeting to six of the exiles, who agreed to be identified publicly despite a campaign of retribution against Assad opponents inside and outside Syria. A seventh joined the meeting later because he did not want to be identified. The meeting in Geneva came as the State Department announced that Ford was returning to his post in Damascus.
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Reuters later identified six of the SNC members attending the meeting as the Syrian National Council’s president, Burhan Ghalioun, and SNC members Abdulahad Astepho, Najib Ghadbian, Bassma Kodmani, Wael Merza and Abdulbaset Sieda and the photo accompanying the AP article clearly shows Dr. Ghadbian as one of the attendees. An earlier post discussed Dr. Ghadbian’s appearance along with a U.S. State Department official at an event co-sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
In 2007, the Wall Street Journal report identified Najib Ghadbian as the point of contact between White House officials and the National Salvation Front, a newly formed Syrian opposition coalition at that time, and as an advocate for a U.S. relationship with the Syrian Brotherhood:
An initial contact between the White House and NSF was forged by Najib Ghadbian, a University of Arkansas political scientist. In 2005, Mr. Ghadbian and other Syrian-Americans had set up the Syrian National Council in a bid to influence the U.S. policy debate. Meeting that fall with a senior State Department official, he suggested the U.S. work with his group and its contacts, including the Brotherhood. U.S. officials confirm they were initially resistant to talking with Syrian groups tied to the Brotherhood. …Mr. Ghadbian’s group, however, decided to join the NSF. Syrian-American activists, he explained, “wouldn’t be taken seriously” in the Arab world without ties to arguably the largest group opposing President Assad. As 2006 progressed, Washington became increasingly concerned about Syria’s military alliance with Iran, and the threat it posed to U.S. interests in the region. Damascus and Tehran backed Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a virtual draw that summer. The White House also worried about the threat Syria posed to Lebanon’s pro-Western government.
The New York Sun had reported in 2006 that Ghadbian had expressed support for an individual said to be “close to the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood,” implying that he would like to see him play a role in a “democratic Syria”:
Mr. Ghadbian, a professor at the Saudi-affiliated King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas, said yesterday that he prefers for Baathists, Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood to be included in a post-Assad Syria. Mr. Ghadbian said that an individual he described as being “close to the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Obeida Nahas, had been invited to the conference and that he would be “happy to have him there.” Mr. Ghadbian also said yesterday that he felt it was important for a democratic Syria to preserve its Muslim identity.
GhadbIan is also a board member of the Center for the Study of Islamic and Democracy (CSID), founded in 1998 largely by the efforts of Georgetown University academic Dr. Esposito who during the 1990’s served in the State Department as a “foreign affairs analyst” and who has at least a dozen past or present affiliations with global Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas organizations. Many members of the early CSID board were associated with IIIT, the American Muslim Council, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). For example, past CSID board members included Jamal Barzinji and Taha Al-Alwani, both associated with IIIT and both important leaders in the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood who helped to establish many of the most important U.S. Brotherhood organizations. From its inception, CSID has argued that the U.S. government should support Islamist movements in foreign countries and has received financial support from the U.S. State Department, the National Endowment for Democracy and the United States Institute of Peace.