US State Secretary John Kerry discussed a broad range of issues in Moscow, including the would-be summit. The agreement on convening an international conference on Syria to form a transitional government till the end of this month was especially important. Some observers didn’t waste time to call it a long-awaited breakthrough in the efforts to put an end to the conflict tearing up the much-suffered country. Others were more careful and pointed out there were multiple obstacles on the way. The Assad’s government remains stable enough; Russia, China and other states are staunch preventing an outside intervention. But by endorsing the Russian initiative Washington pursues its own goals.
According to Al Jazeera, the accord looks like a feather in the hat of Russia’s diplomacy, which from the very start stood by the Geneva communique as the only way to solve the problem. It points out, that the Russia-US agreement emphasizes the goal of forming a transitional government at large representing all parties to the conflict. The TV channel concludes that the US makes significant concessions, including the fate of Bashar Assad. (1) It makes remember the words of Mr. Kerry saying it was «impossible for me as an individual» to imagine Assad continuing to govern, Kerry said the decision could only be made by the Syrian people». He went further, «But I’m not going to decide that tonight. I’m not going to decide that in the end. Because the Geneva communique says that the transitional government has to be chosen by mutual consent by the parties… the current regime and the opposition», Kerry said. The Secretary agreed the Geneva accords envisioned the consent of all parties involved. Al Jazeera reported from Moscow that the parties to the conflict are still to be convinced that the United States and Russia have come to agreement. It’s the core mission for Russia and America.
Just a week before the visit State Department officials interconnected a peace dialogue in Syria with political transformation inside the country meaning Assad and those, close to him, had to go.
«America has had a completely unrealistic vision of how diplomacy was going to be carried out, and they may have done that intentionally because they didn’t really want diplomacy, and they thought they were going to get a quick win», Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. (2) But the «pro-Western» opposition is fleeing, Islamists are gaining strength – something Washington cannot turn a blind eye on. In Moscow Kerry agreed that Syria attracts extremists. Perhaps, it’s a reflection of what Russian Foreign Minister paid attention on during their previous meeting in Brussels. «I feel more understanding of the urgency to switch from words and appeals to do something to real actions. I hope that we will soon see additional movements from those who doubted this previously», Lavrov said at a news conference on the results of talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels.
In particular he emphasized back then, «the understanding that if the stake on the war until the final victory supported by the minority of the international community will continue, then radicals will prevail».
Probably, the United States stand was influenced by its failure to make the Syria’s government culpable for the use of chemical weapons. A leading member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said there was ground to believe it was the rebels, who were to blame. Lavrov said in Moscow, the Russian Federation was concerned, but the issue should not be transformed into a hostage of various provocations – «We do not want this issue hostage to any provocations», he said, at least till there is no hard evidence to prove the fact. In his turn, Kerry said the issue of arms supply to Syria opposition, something many representatives and senators insist on, would be decided on the basis of thorough investigation of the chemical weapons issue.
At the same time, experts see big snags on the way of the accords implementation. A lot of things will depend on the parties involved in Syrian conflict, including neighbors. It’s not an occasion that right upon leaving Moscow the Secretary visited Rome to meet Tzipi Livni, Israeli Justice Minister, responsible for the talks with Palestine, and Nasser Judeh, Jordanian Foreign Minister. Aside from the Israel-Palestine conflict, Syria was on the agenda. (3) The both states actively engaged in combat actions on the side of Syrian opposition, now they may feel «used and thrown away» by Washington, which was the one to get them engaged. If Washington, one way or another, is ready to reconcile with the fact that the Syrian government may remain in power, then Tel Aviv and Amman will inevitably face difficulties dealing with Damascus being hostile to it before. That’s the price to pay for those who are too eager to serve alien interests. To use and forget is normal practice for the White House. Still, the both states, especially Israel, which enjoys more influence, can have it both ways. If the events unfold in the wrong way, Israel may stymie the process by starting new bombings.
The first snag is the list of participants. It will define the composition of the would-be government. Washington will push through the US-loyal Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, while ignoring the Jabhat al-Nusra radicals. It would like to see the least significant and loyal actors on the side of the government hindering the participation of Assad and his team. There is no ground to believe the most ardent radicals will give up arms. The pro-Western opposition would also like to enter the capital backed up by the force ready to support it further on.
A simple division of power with acting experienced leaders will lead nowhere pretty soon. The Syrian pro-Western opposition is not very enthusiastic about the conference. The participation of Assad himself is a big issue. Mahmud Al-Hamza, a member of opposition National Council, says he supports the peace process, but without Assad. According to him, the Syrian President must go; this opinion is shared by all opposition. According to him, «Russia wants the talks started with no preliminary strings attaches, but this is unacceptable to those who have been waging war against the regime for two years already». (4) The only actor to fully side with the Russia’s initiative is Damascus. Foreign Minister Lavrov said during the press-conference that the head of Syrian Foreign Ministry Walid Mohi Edine al Muallem had confirmed the readiness for the conference based on the Geneva accords in a phone conversation. (5)
As to him, the Syrian government has already formed a special commission for crisis management talks. There has been no opposition response so far.
Russia appears to gain a significant advance of its Syrian policy, but it faces a diplomatic tall order in its efforts to advance the course further. There is a ground to believe the White House has an intent to use all the force of its «soft force» potential in the new negotiation pattern to achieve the necessary result «one way or another». According to the Chicago Tribune, Moscow realizes that if the United States really wanted to manage the Syria’s crisis it would not wait for Russia’s approval. The fact the Obama administration appears to seek Russia’s consent shows to Moscow that Washington is hesitating. Perhaps Russia thinks that Kerry understands it. The same way the US will use the lack of cooperation with Moscow as a pretext for further deterioration of the situation in Syria. (6)
In particular, it’s expedient no avoid Russia being used for pushing Assad to make unilateral concessions. Like, for instance, it was done the 1990s when Milosevic led Serbia during the Yugoslavian crisis. Then they will exert pressure on Damascus keeping Russia away.
The White House can easily refuse to abide by previous obligations citing the Congressional reluctance to give approval as a pretext, as it has happened many times in the past. Bob Corker, the ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee, told CBS on Tuesday that: «I do think we’ll be arming the opposition shortly». (7)
Having it in mind, Moscow should adhere to its principal course. The gist of this policy is the support for Syrian legislation and international law, not certain persons. «We are not interested in the fate of certain persons», Lavrov said. The attempts to involve Russia into a stand-off with Syria radical forces are no less perilous.
The planned international conference on Syria can be fruitful only if all the parties involved join the cabinet. A transitional government has a chance for stability in case all the leading public and political forces get a representation.
Author: Dmitry Minin