|Kerry and Lavrov: Gimme five!|
U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red line” for Syria has transmuted into a “white flag,” according to Abdelbari Atwan, publisher/editor of the London-based pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi.
And most political analysts in today’s Arab press seem to be of the same opinion.
The reaction is to last Tuesday’s announcement in Moscow of a U.S.-Russian agreement to convene an international conference to find a political solution on Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said they would encourage both Damascus and the opposition to negotiate.
The deal came after Kerry's talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Kerry and Lavrov announced they would try to organize the international conference before the end of May if possible.
The forum will try to convince both the Syrian government and opposition to accept a solution based on the core elements of the final communiqué issued on 30 June 2012 after the UN-backed Action Group for Syria meeting in Geneva (see my post of the same date, “Syria Action Group leaves open Assad Question”).
The Geneva communiqué called for the formation of a fully empowered transitional government. But there was no understanding on the future role of President Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle.
The opposition and Washington were insisting he should stand down before any negotiations.
Now Washington seems to have softened its position to the extent of leaving Assad's future up to the outcome of negotiations and whatever the Syrians themselves decide, which has long been Moscow’s position.
Atwan, in his editorial comment for al-Quds al-Arabi, says: “Clearly, the U.S. administration made the bigger concession in Moscow by embracing the Russian position.
“After drawing red lines, saying it was reviewing its previous cautions policy and positions on the Syria crisis, and considering the supply of lethal weapons to the Syrian opposition, we see Washington totally surrendering to Russia’s conditions and calling for a peace conference that recognizes the Syrian regime’s legitimacy.”
The administration has suddenly clammed up on Assad having to step down before any negotiations, on evidence of his using chemical weapons against his people, and on his days being numbered.
Atwan says, “There are two winners from the American-Russian political move.
“The first is President Bashar al-Assad, albeit for the time being.
“The second is Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
“Assad has recouped his international legitimacy because he and his regime will now make a strong comeback to the international arena – with the kind of U.S. blessings he had long been hunting for.
“Lakhdar Brahimi will shelve for six months his plans to resign and go into retirement and oblivion. He will bask again in all the glory of returning to the political and media spotlight, which he must be missing.
“America does not want a war in Syria or Iran and wants to avoid them by all ways and means. The Russians share its apprehension.
“The only war the two sides want to wage independently or in tandem is against Islamic Jihadist groups in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Thus, be prepared for American and Russian ‘revivals’ that are now in the making.
“Whether the planned international conference succeeds or fails, stifling Jabhat al-Nusra and its sisters is the headline of the new Russian-American entente.”
Whether by design or coincidence, three media outlets that speak for Assad say, “The Syrian leadership is glad to see the world redirect its center of attention to the threat posed by Muslim extremists and Takfiris.”
The quote comes from a news report penned by Elie Chalhoub, co-founder and managing editor of al-Akhbar daily, Assad’s mouthpiece in Lebanon
The report -- which is published simultaneously by Al-Akhbar, Syria’s state-run Champress and Hezbollah’s al-Manar news portal for emphasis -- quotes unnamed Assad aides as saying, “Several factors worked very much in our favor, including Israel’s airstrike, al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Qatari-Saudi rivalry, Turkey’s Ottoman-style approach and the opposition’s splintering. All this proved to all and sundry that there is no substitute to the Syrian state.”
Chalhoub quotes Assad personally as telling visitors, “We could have easily responded to Israel’s airstrike in Damascus by firing a few missiles at Israel…
“That would have been a tactical response. We prefer a strategic reaction by opening the door to the Resistance and turning the whole of Syria into a resistance country…
“We have full confidence in Hezbollah and are extremely grateful for its good judgment, loyalty and steadfastness. That’s why we decided to give them everything. For the first time, we both felt we shared the same circumstance. We are not only allies and paired…
“(We in Syria) decided to get closer and become a resistance state akin to Hezbollah for the sake of Syria and (its) future generations.”
Winner and loser
The United States has for years listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Saudi Arabia’s most eminent journalist, Abdurrahman al-Rashed, who heads Alarabiya TV news channel, makes no mention of the group in his column today for the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat.
But he says, “Regrettably, the Americans are going along with Lavrov’s plan…
“What we can tell Secretary Kelly is not to trust the Russian-Iranian offer, which manipulates American fears to dictate a political solution aimed at getting rid of Jihadist organizations.
“In practice, the offer can only widen the conflict and empower the terrorist groups. The latter will surely exploit the wrath of the majority as it is coerced to go along with a solution it does not want, coming as it is at the price of 100,000 deaths, five million refugees and a country biting the dust.
“The solution should take the opposite route, one that sees the international community empower the majority to win its political rights with Assad shown the door immediately and not in a year’s time.”
The Russians, Rashed adds, are capitalizing on the Americans’ alarm at getting Jihadists the day after Assad.
It is two years now since chaos and terror blighted Syria. Subduing the revolting majority at this point will make it impossible to restore any semblance of stability. “For the first time in the region’s history terrorist groups like al-Qaeda will be able to amass loads of partners.”
Washington-based political analyst Hisham Melhem, writing today for the independent Lebanese an-Nahar, opines on “Winners and losers.”
Unlike regular warfare, he says, civil wars are fierce and emotive. Each side is familiar with the other, perceives the fight as existential and anticipates a loser and a winner rather than a compromise.
“Countries where civil wars ended with a loser and a winner – America and Spain, for instance – had a better chance to rebuild and lay sound statehood foundations after a difficult transition, chiefly for the loser.
“Countries where civil wars ended in compromises, specially under international auspices – Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq – remained fragmented and prone to renewed internecine strife.”
The Syria war is unlikely to end with a negotiated political solution and the U.S.-Russian blueprint as it stands is no more than a pipe dream.