Syria Still a Killing field and Diplomacy Fragile: New Developments

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss issues related to Syria in Paris.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss issues related to Syria in Paris.

Secretary Kerry: “[It] is our hope that we will come out of here with greater clarity about some of the issues that need to be worked on in the days ahead. We agreed that representatives of both of our governments, from the foreign ministry in Russia and the State Department in the United States, will meet as soon as possible in order to work through a number of these issues regarding how this conference could best be prepared for the possibility of success, not failure.”

Foreign Minister Lavrov: “I would like to express my gratitude to John Kerry for suggesting that we meet on this occasion, because the situation is not getting better on the ground and we all want to do everything in our efforts to stop the bloodshed and to reduce the sufferings of the Syrian people. And therefore we took stock today of where we are with the implementation of the Russian-American initiative which was launched when John visited Moscow on the 7th of May.”

-Remarks from Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov after their meeting in Paris on May 27

We are approaching a moment of truth with the Syrian civil war.  The battles are becoming more ferocious, in a conflict more dangerous and diverse that already extends the fighting beyond Syria’s borders.

The involvement of Russian support and arms, Iranian arms and fighters, and not least Hezbollah, all bode badly for a peaceful solution. Yet the diplomatic path is still the best option of all the other bad options. Secretary John Kerry is working on both a Syrian peace and also a Middle East peace process at the same time. The two are interconnected as the region will not find a solid measure of security and prosperity until both Syrian conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian problems are solved.

Secretary Kerry has been bolder, more determined, and more focused than any Secretary of State in the last decade or more. He is also playing the long odds in an area filled with failure and risks.  But, here the U.S. is doing the right things rather than the wrong ones despite carping from the right wing Republicans and neo-cons.  In this connection Senator McCain visited Syria and talked to various factions of the Syrian opposition and in particular General Idris, the leader of a more “moderate” fighting group who asked for lethal weapons, no fly zones, and airstrikes to degrade Syria’s air force.  Sen. McCain continued his crusade for American armed intervention but still says it will not be our “boots on the ground.” He would do well to support Kerry’s diplomacy.

Russia seems to be playing more and more a double game of helping intensify the conflict and possibly arming Assad with S-300s and other weapons while opposing the EU action to let the ban on sending weapons to Syrian opposition groups end. The duplicitous strategy and statements are not the first time Russia has taken “both sides,” as its relations with Iran show. Yet there seems growing recognition that a continued war in Syria may not be to Russia’s advantage, and without America, the cooperation of NATO powers, and the Arab League, there will be no peace. Yet here Russia may have to make a decision to either seek real peace or further its isolation from a productive long-term partnership with the West.

The key to success is not only the Geneva Conference scheduled in mid-June but back-up options should that fail. These by definition would be more risky and costly but it is becoming clearer and clearer that some added intervention will be required to rid Syria of Assad and also ensure a new broad based government and peace.

I am happy to report that Tom Friedman of the New York Times has finally come out in support of the intervention of an international peacekeeping force in Syria – I assume after some kind of agreement has been reached either in Geneva or through alternative “solutions” and a “Friends of Syria” consensus that this is the best post-Assad mechanism for stability in Syria and will help in preventing further communal killing.

Now is the time for not only the Geneva Conference but also a decision by the “Friends of Syria” to act to form a multilateral peacekeeping force with a robust mandate to keep the peace and help with reconciliation of the groups in Syria.

One thought on “Syria Still a Killing field and Diplomacy Fragile: New Developments

  1. Harry Blaney May 29, 2013 / 2:44 PM

    One of the most important events of the past few days has been the action noted above of the EU sanctions lifting. By default of agreement the EU arms embargo on Syria are gone. It was a big fight however with some countries wanting to keep the embargo while the U.K. and France wanted it dropped.

    The other element that has put yet another obstacle in the way to Geneva had been the Russian reaction to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who denounced as “odious” a U.S.-backed draft resolution condemning the Syrian government at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday and he said it would undermine peace efforts.

    Lavrov said the U.S. support for the draft resolution, which would condemn “widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights” by Syrian authorities and affiliated militias, ran counter to U.S.-Russian efforts to convene a peace conference.
    The draft was likened it to a U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted earlier in may that Lavrov said was aimed at creating obstacles to U.S.- Russian efforts to foster a peaceful solution.

    According to press accounts Lavrov said it was unacceptable to support the conference, which he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to organize, while at the same time “taking steps that are in essence aimed at undermining this proposal”. Lavrov reiterated Russian insistence that Iran be invited to the conference. This was opposed by France. Lavrov further stated that opponents of President Bashar al-Assad should be persuaded to enter negotiations “without preconditions” such as his exit.

    As we have noted in our post, it seems the Russians may not be playing with the aim of a real solution to the Syrian crisis beyond keeping Assad in power and the conflict going. We shall see as this is a bad position for Russia and its long-term interests.

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