Thursday, 14 March 2013

Kerry told to sit with Assad first

From top clockwise: The Kerrys and Assads at Naranj restaurant in Damascus in 2009 and Kerry with Lavrov and Moaz 

A Syrian journalist today tells U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to first sit with his chum Bashar al-Assad to test the water before asking the Syrian opposition to come to the table to negotiate a transition.
Kerry told reporters Tuesday, “The world wants to stop the killing (in Syria). 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…” (See yesterday’s post, “Big Powers seeking table partners for Moaz”)
His remarks shocked much of the regional press.
Syria’s state-run media senses an American volte-face in Assad’s favor. Champress, for instance, declares ecstatically, “American body blow to the Turkish-Gulfite alliance: Kerry wants President Assad and the opposition to sit at the negotiation table.”
Likewise, Lebanese Hezbollah’s news portal, al-Manar, which reproduces the leader comment of pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi titled, “America retracts the call on Assad to step down.”
The Beirut daily al-Akhbar, which speaks for both Assad and Hezbollah, shouts from the rooftops, “Washington follows Moscow: A solution with Assad staying put.”
On the other side of the political divide, the Saudi newspaper of records Asharq Alawsat sounds downbeat, with its front-page banner announcing, “American position veers towards a ‘dialogue’ between the opposition and Assad.”
Editorially, eminent Syrian author and journalist Ghassan al-Mufleh writes in an op-ed for Elaph that Kerry – not the opposition -- should be the one to open the discourse with Assad.
Mufleh’s argument:
The U.S. secretary of state’s personal connection with the Assad family goes back more than two decades. It strengthened after the Syrian army’s exit from Lebanon in 2005.
Sen. Kerry was the main driving force in talks (1) to extricate the Assad clique from the clutches of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) mandated to identify and try those responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and (2) to then rehabilitate the clique.
I wrote about this at the time.
And when John Kerry was first nominated to the position of secretary of state, I wrote that the central reason for handing him the job is his familiarity with the Syria File and his personal relationship with the Assad clique. I also warned against the clique’s international exoneration as it still enjoyed a measure of international cover.
I also cited the Sudanese example, and how Omar al-Bashir is walking free after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity. The price for his reprieve was the creation of the Republic of South Sudan and the South Sudan’s Chinese oil puzzle.
John Kerry did not take long to avow his wish to tackle the Syria File as the principal representative of the Israel-condoned Assad clique.
Incidentally, Kerry is also in favor of rehabilitating the Iranian regime and preserving its Mullahs at the helm. The Iranian opposition can thus expect to come under U.S. pressure as well.
The aforesaid is in keeping with the strategy of President Barack Obama’s inner circle. (Remember how the White House vetoed last year’s plan -- backed by Panetta-Dempsey-Clinton-Petraeus -- to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels).
Bypassing the Obama-Kerry plan taking shape is the responsibility of the Syrian opposition and revolutionary forces.
But not to sound totally negative, the U.S. secretary of state can head to Damascus for a dialogue with the Assad clique before implicating the Syrian opposition in the game of the clique’s rehabilitation.
The follow-on would be a UN Security Council resolution, based on the Geneva framework, ordering the Assad clique to stop the killings. The opposition can follow suit. If the U.S. and Russia are in tune, what can prevent the UN Security Council passing a resolution calling for dialogue and a peaceful political transition following the cessation of violence as demanded in Geneva?”
Let Kerry kickoff a firsthand dialogue.
Should he fail, he would bear sole responsibility for the step without the Syrian Revolution bearing its consequences.