|Syrian Revolution artwork by Manar Qanah|
Moaz al-Khatib’s startling, six-week-old “personal” offer of talks with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad risks undoing the Syrian National Coalition he leads.
The SNC politburo and assembly promptly and formally dismissed the proposal he made in late January (see my posts of Feb. 15 and Feb. 22).
But the suggestion is not going away and remains very much alive.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at the State Department yesterday:
It is inevitable and true of every single opposition in any kind of circumstance like this that there are tensions and differences of opinion as they find their footing, and there’s no surprise in that. So we have to work quietly and effectively with the international community. There are lots of people involved and engaged with the Syrian opposition. You could remember a year ago that they were completely un-unified and spoke without one voice.
So we will continue to work with them. I’m not going to vouch on any process over which we don’t have control, but I will tell you that they are adamant, all of them, about what they’re fighting for. And the cause is the cause of the Syrian people. And they have committed themselves to a broad-based government that is going to represent all of the people of Syria, even as there may be some dissension as to tactics or process among them. So you have to have some patience in this process even as you approach it with care. And I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.
We want to stop the killing. And they want to stop the killing. The world wants to stop the killing. And we want to be able to see Assad and the Syrian opposition come to the table for the creation of a transitional government according to the framework that was created in Geneva, the Geneva Protocol, which requires mutual consent on both sides to the formation of that transitional government.
That’s what we’re pushing for. And to do that, you have to have President Assad change his calculation so he doesn’t believe he can shoot it out endlessly, but you also need a cooperative Syrian opposition to come to the table, too. We’re working on it, and we will continue to work on it.
Laurent Fabius, Kerry’s French counterpart, elaborated further.
He told the foreign affairs committee of the National Assembly that France, Russia and the United States are trying to draw up a list of Syrian officials with whom the SNC can negotiate.
"We worked together on an idea... of a list of Syrian officials who would be acceptable to Syria's opposition National Coalition," he said.
Fabius said Khatib had said in a "very brazen manner" that he was willing to negotiate with some regime officials but not Assad.
"We have discussed this with the Russians and the Americans... There have been exchanges to seek a political solution," he said.
Which regime figures and Syrian officials would negotiate Assad’s exit? The Syrian revolution spent two years looking for them.
When Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, China, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia – the Assad regime’s official mouthpiece – avow publicly they can’t convince or force Assad to step down, which prodigious Superman, Batman and Grendizer will assume the task?
Are the French, the Americans and the Europeans pulling the wool over our eyes or their own?
America’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper yesterday told a Senate Intelligence Committee on global security threats that forces seeking to oust Assad are gaining strength and territory, but the Syrian opposition remains fragmented and is grappling with an infusion of militant foreign fighters.
"The question comes up, 'How long will Assad last?' And our standard answer is, 'His days are numbered. We just don't know the number.' Our assessment is that he is very committed to hanging in there and sustaining his control of the regime," Clapper told the Senate panel.
Assad's government is losing territory and experiencing shortages in manpower and logistics, Clapper said. But at the same time, there are "literally hundreds" of cells of opposition fighters over which leaders are struggling to impose more centralized command and control.
Clapper noted a growing presence among Assad's opponents of foreign fighters, many associated with al-Nusra Front, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq that has gained strength in Syria partly by offering services to a population beaten down by two years of civil war.
"They are, where they can, providing more and more municipal services in what is a very terrible situation from a humanitarian standpoint," Clapper said.
Last Friday, Henry Kissinger took questions at the annual corporate conference of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan later wrote in part on Peggy Noonan’s Blog:
Kissinger of course is an iconic figure in the history of foreign affairs, a statesman and historian of statesmanship. He will be 90 soon but he’s taken the opposite of the usual trajectory of those formerly in power. Normally the longer you’ve been from high office the smaller you seem. Kissinger has retained his gravity and presence, and his foreign-policy mystique has in fact grown since he left the secretary of state’s office in 1977. In part this may be because he thinks about, writes about and supports the idea that great nations need grand strategies…
From my notes:
On Syria: “Someone who chooses ophthalmology as a career is not a man driven by huge concepts of state.” President Bashar Assad’s father would have been ruthless too in similar circumstances, but also “more skilled in diplomacy.”
“It would be better if Assad left,” Kissinger said. America’s concern is to have “a non-radical outcome.” The question is what Syria would look like after the fall of Assad. “In the abstract, an outcome that permits the various ethnic groups a certain autonomy” is desirable.
We should be aware of Russia’s anxieties. “They are genuinely worried about the spread of radicalism,” he said. “Radicalism that would fall from Syria would reach them first.”
“If we can make a strategic agreement with Russia, we would have to take it to the Arab world.”
“Whatever we do . . . in my life we’ve had four wars which we entered with great enthusiasm and did not know how to end.” We want an outcome that takes account of “humanitarian concerns” and “is not radical.” We should do what we can “short of American ground forces.”
On the Obama administration’s foreign policy: “They are skillful in handling tactical aspects of situations.” But “they have not been able to put this together into a strategic overview of where we’re going… I don’t think they’re disliked but they’re not fully trusted anywhere. Nobody knows where they’re going.”