Wednesday 7 November 2012

U.S.-Russia back-room deal over Syria takes shape

Now that he’s won, after putting Syria on hold throughout his reelection campaign, U.S. President Barack Obama seems set to bungle the Syrian Revolution.
Instead of arming Syrian opposition rebels to topple President Bashar al-Assad, his administration is now hard-selling Russia’s roadmap for a Syrian-led political settlement.
The opening shots in the U.S.-Russian common approach to the Syria crisis came a week before Election Day, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Syrian National Council was dysfunctional.
Within days, the State Department was orchestrating the ongoing hullabaloo in Doha over a Syrian National Initiative (SNI) to replace the SNC (see my Nov. 3 post, U.S. push to overhaul Syrian opposition gains pace).
Almost at the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flew to Cairo for talks with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and Syria troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi.
Lavrov told reporters at a post-talks press conference, “We decided what to do in Geneva. And it is incumbent upon us to move forwards on the basis of what was agreed upon in Geneva. And the players outside the region should coordinate and… in one direction. And Russia is doing just that. It is trying to execute what was agreed upon in Geneva.”
A more indicative sign Washington and Moscow have shaken hands on a Syria deal came yesterday from New York.
Warning Syria’s current path of violence will lead the country “to its destruction,” UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman -- who until last June was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State -- said there was an urgent need to “shift away” from the military logic driving the conflict and to move towards a political process.
“It has to be a Syrian-led process; it can’t be imposed,” Feltman told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York after he briefed a closed meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation in the war-ravaged country.
“It must bring real change and a clean break from the past,” he added.
With that goal in mind, Feltman said, Brahimi was working with “great urgency,” mentioning that Brahimi’s deputy Nasser al-Kidwa was “monitoring” the Syrian opposition restructuring in Doha.
“The situation inside Syria is turning grimmer every day,” he told reporters, adding there was a growing risk the crisis could “explode outward into an already volatile region.”
“We might, in fact, already be seeing signs of this spillover,” Feltman said, referring to Syria-related violence in Turkey and Lebanon, and what he called “activities” in the Golan.
“We don’t think the fighting is directed at undermining the disengagement of forces agreement per se,” Feltman said in response to a question on the situation in Golan. “It is the Syrian-on-Syrian fighting. But, nevertheless, we are quite concerned about what the impact could be if there is not an immediate return to full compliance with that disengagement of forces agreement.”
Feltman flagged how Brahimi saw a June communiqué by the UN-backed Action Group on Syria as still providing an “important building block” for an eventual peace.
The Action Group is made up of the UN and Arab League chiefs; the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) as well as the Turkish foreign minister; the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy; and the foreign ministers of Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, who are members of the Arab League ministerial committee on Syria.
At a meeting in Geneva last June 30, the Group had approved the “Geneva Declaration” -- a set of principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.
Among other proposed measures, the Geneva Declaration called on all parties to immediately recommit to a sustained cessation of armed violence in a bid to end the conflict, in addition to the establishment of a transitional governing body that would exercise full executive powers and would be made up of members of the Assad regime and the opposition and other groups (see full text of the Geneva Declaration in my June 30 post, Syria Action Group leaves open Assad question).