Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are the US and Russia bridging the divide on Syria?

Interesting article from Christian Science Monitor
Stalemate in Syria
After a surprisingly positive first meeting (so we are told) between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Berlin Tuesday, Russian experts say they're hopeful that a real opportunity has opened up to pressure the Bashar al-Assad regime and Syria's fractured rebel movement to come to the bargaining table and discuss a negotiated end to the stalemated civil war that has killed around 70,000 people in the past two years.

After a visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to Moscow on Monday, the Russians insist they have firm assurances that the Syrian government has a negotiating team in place and is ready to sit down with opponents, even armed rebels, to discuss a transitional government. They say the onus is now on the US and its allies to bring pressure on the main Syrian rebel groups (the onus has always been on the US and allies) – who will be gathering together at a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome on Thursday – to accept that the only way to stop the bloodshed and end the impasse is to sit down with at least elements of the Assad regime and hammer out a political way forward.

"I think it's clear that Russia can deliver the Assad regime on this point, and bring them to the table for talks with the rebels," says Andrei Baklitsky, an expert with the PIR Center, an independent Moscow-based security think tank.

"Russian diplomacy has been pretty consistent on the need for such talks (Russian diplomacy has been consistent all along. US and allies, not so much)and Moscow is ready to do its part. But I would think it's the US that has a problem here. If Washington is going to change its approach, and come out in favor of negotiations, it may find itself unable to bring the rebels to the table. (unable to bring the rebels and maybe the Israeli's?)The Syrian rebels are very fragmented, have little common ground, and some of them are completely intransigent. Some of them didn't even want to go to Rome, to sit down with their friends, much less engage in talks with the Assad regime," he says.
Both Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry came out of their two-hour Berlin meeting saying optimistic things, which is remarkable in itself given the extremely strained condition of the US-Russia relationship these days. Lavrov told journalists that the two had a meeting of minds about the need to take urgent steps to end Syria's nightmare.

"It’s not that everything depends on us, but we shall do all we can to create conditions for the soonest start of a dialogue between the government and the opposition," Lavrov said.
 State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that the two spent the bulk of their time discussing Syria "and how we can work together to implement the Geneva agreement." That deal, reached last summer, commits both sides to promoting a political settlement but has so far proven hopelessly vague on whether Assad needs to step down before the negotiating process can begin.

Even if Russia and the US can work together to induce their respective clients to the bargaining table, what would they have to talk about? 

I found this reporting interesting and a tad more honest in it's opening narration then much of what has been presented via the msm.
However, the article ends, in a way suggesting that this bridge may not be crossed at all and goes back into the familiar narrative

"Let's count the miracles that have to happen here," says Georgy Mirsky, senior researcher at the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. "First, we have to get the opposition to give up their hope of eventual military victory and agree to talk with the regime. Second, Assad has to step down and delegate power to a deputy, whom the rebels would be willing to deal with. And if Assad refuses to go, no miracle of talks is likely to take place at all...."
George Mirsky is still stating  "Assad has to step down" That is not promising.  Assad still has support amongst the populace that Western leadership could only dream of.
"And if those two miracles do happen, what's to say that the rebel fighters inside Syria will accept any agreement their supposed leaders in the diaspora have made? After all, these are increasingly hardline Islamists, who have been fighting hard for two years, and they are not prepared to be sidelined by some deal between the regime and foreign-based opposition leaders," he says.
"What are the chances all these miracles are going to happen? Really, not so much."
 No guarantee of rebel compliance... As if they are acting independently?
Almost as if the piece raises hopes, just to dash them!

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