Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not attend the Dec. 12 meeting of the Friends of Syria in Morocco due to a lingering stomach ailment.
Clinton was expected to make news at the event by formally recognizing the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the new opposition leadership organization put together last month in Doha with the help of the State Department, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. That designation would pave the way for the U.S. to increase its aid to the Syrian opposition.
She was expected to leave Washington Monday, but initially delayed the trip for one day due to the stomach virus. Late Monday evening, her spokesman Philippe Reines said Clinton was cancelling the whole Middle East trip.
"Since she's still under the weather, we'll be staying put this week instead of heading to North Africa and the Middle East as originally planned," Reines said. "In her place, Deputy Secretary [Bill] Burns will travel to Marrakech for the Friends of the Syrian People meeting. We will let you know when she shakes this bug and resumes a public schedule."
Clinton was also slated to go to Tunisia and to the UAE, where she was to attend the opening of a new center of excellence for countering violent extremism. Reines said Burns will take on Clinton's full schedule and make those stops as well.
Burns just got back from Bahrain, where he led the U.S. delegation to the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, which also included your humble Cable guy. At the conference, Burns didn't say that formal recognition of the Syrian council was coming, but several State Department sources told The Cable the decision to recognize the group in Morocco had already been made.
Burns did say that the balance of power on the ground is clearly shifting against the regime and that the Obama administration is considering additional ways the "can help speed the genuine transition of power," ideally through a political transition to new leadership based on the Geneva plan developed last summer.
Mustafa Sabbagh, secretary general of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said in Bahrain that he thinks the U.S. will recognize his council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in Morocco.
"We do expect from the USA a similar recognition," he said, referring to the fact that several other western countries have already recognized the group. "I did not hear that there were any conditions set by the USA for this recognition."
KEVIN LAMARQUE/AFP/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.