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Time to sit down with the Russians | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The announcement made by the Russian Foreign Minister and his Qatari counterpart, during a joint-press conference in Cairo yesterday, that Russia and the Arab League have agreed to 5 provisions to settle the Syrian crisis, including the Arab League’s [previous] decisions – which includes calling on Bashar al-Assad to leave power – cannot be viewed as a reversal of the Russian position, so much as an important breakthrough.

The Russian Bear did not come round all the way, but is in the process of doing so. This is something – in addition to what happened yesterday in Cairo – that indicates that Moscow may play the same role in Syria that Riyadh played in Sanaa to secure the exit of Ali Abdullah Saleh, under international cover. Yesterday’s meeting in Cairo saw Saudi Arabia and Qatar clashing with the Russian foreign minister, as both Prince Saud al-Faisal and Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim confronted their Russian counterpart, defending the Syrian opposition, and reminding him of the history of the region, and the position his country has played in it. For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also used history to defend his country, stressing that Moscow never colonized our countries; however Russia’s defense of al-Assad is worse than colonialism! Does this mean we have reached the end of the road? Of course not.

The importance of the Arab League – Russian agreement on these 5 points can be seen in what was said following the announcement of this; Lavrov announced that this agreement includes “stopping violence from any source, unbiased monitoring of the situation, opposition to foreign intervention, unhindered humanitarian access to Syria and support of the efforts of UN – Arab League envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan, based on the framework put forward by the UN and the Arab League.” However Sheikh Hamad then said – and this is most important – that he wanted confirmation that “the references that Kofi Annan will adopt are the UN General Assembly resolution issued on 16 February, the Arab States’ Action Plan adopted on 2 November, 2011, and the Arab League resolutions adopted on 22 January and 12 February, 2012.” All of this means the departure of the tyrant of Damascus from power, however the question is: how will this be achieved? For even if this issue is brought once again before the UN Security Council, after the Russians’ yesterday accepted what they previously rejected and vetoed, how can this be achieved when the Arab League – Russian agreement stresses that there is to be no foreign intervention in Syria?

It is clear that we are returning today to what I previously wrote a few days ago, namely that Washington believes that Moscow is capable of securing the departure of al-Assad, according to the Yemen model, particularly as I have received information about a conversation that took place between the Russians and an Arab officials not long ago on Syria, during which the Russians acknowledged that al-Assad’s fall is inevitable, and they are indifferent to this, but they oppose the complete collapse of the regime!

Therefore, wisdom dictates that the time has come to sit down with the Russians, face-to-face, not via statements or group meetings; for Russia has interests that it must take into account, as do the Arabs, most importantly stopping the crimes that are being committed against the Syrian people, and securing the departure of al-Assad!

Therefore, we must sit down with the Russians, sooner rather than later.