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Russia and US enter bartering phase over Syria - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat –Western media viewed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s speech on Sunday as an attempt to torpedo the efforts of UN – Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who just days ago announced that he had a plan that could bring an end to the Syrian crisis. On Sunday, Brahimi announced that he had crafted a ceasefire plan that “could be adopted by the international community” adding “I have discussed this plan with Russia and Syria.” For their part, Arab diplomatic sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat of the presence of a “new atmosphere” that can facilitate communication between Washington and Moscow and which will, in turn, “serve” Brahimi’s mission, which has failed to achieve any positive objective until today.

The Arab diplomatic sources, which were present during Brahimi’s talks in Cairo and Moscow, acknowledged that both sides’ demands are “different” but stressed that they both agree on the need for “cooperation” in order to manage the Syrian file. The sources also revealed that both Washington and Moscow appear to have arrived at a conviction that “neither the opposition is capable of toppling President al-Assad, nor is al-Assad capable of militarily eliminating the opposition”. This state of affairs means the continuation of the battle indefinitely, as well as more destruction and an increasing death toll.

The west had been seeking to push Moscow to abandon the al-Assad regime, but to no avail. This is because Moscow “had no serious reason to respond to all those who came to it and asked it to help them pressure al-Assad to give up power.”

The Arab diplomatic sources asked “why should Moscow lend a helping hand to the west and help it out of the corner that it has placed itself in?” adding “so long as the al-Assad regime is standing on its feet, Moscow will not respond to the desires of the west.”

Beyond this, the Russian side has begun to “play” on US fears of extremist movements in Syria obtaining sophisticated weapons that could later be used against western interests or allies of the west in the region. Moscow believes that its repeated warnings against “bloody chaos” spreading across Syria in the event of the collapse of the al-Assad regime, as well as warnings regarding the increasing strength of fundamentalist jihadist movements on the scene, have begun to have an effect. This can be seen in Washington designating the al-Nusra Front as a “foreign terrorist organization”, saying that the movement has ties to Al Qaeda. Therefore it seems clear that the “military option” – in the manner of Afghanistan or Iraq – is extremely unlikely and all that is left is a “political solution”, the features of which remain unclear. Washington does not want to see the collapse of Syria’s military or security apparatus, as occurred in Iraq following the 2003 US invasion. On the other hand, nor do the Americans want to see Syria following the Afghanistan scenario where the collapse of the Talban regime did not lead to the establishment of an independent regime despite the presence of international forces in the country for more than 11 years. Finally, Washington also does not want to find itself militarily embroiled once more in the Middle East.

On the other hand, diplomatic sources involved in the Syrian file believe that Washington has concluded that it must review its regional priorities, and “modify its approach”, as well as the manner it is dealing with Moscow. According to more than one source, Washington believes that cooperation with Moscow represents a “necessity” and it may therefore be willing to deal with the Russians over the Syrian file in return for Russian cooperation on the Iranian nuclear file. The Iranian nuclear file is set to return to the spot-light over the forthcoming weeks, particularly as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has granted international efforts until spring to put an end to Iran’s nuclear activities before Tel Aviv considers military options. Last month, the New York Times also issued a report reflecting this “transformation” in America’s approach.

In view of these developments, identical sources confirmed that we have now entered the “bartering phase”, particularly after Moscow has confirmed that it must be engaged with to reach a solution regarding the Syrian file and that it remains a “major player” on the political and diplomatic scene. Following this, the Russians will perhaps take the decision to reveal their cards and identify their demands regarding accepting a political settlement in Syria.

Therefore, those primarily concerned with the Syrian file – namely the al-Assad regime, the opposition and the involved regional parties such as Iran, Turkey and Arab states – are closely monitoring what results Moscow and Washington can achieve in this regard, and which party will offer the greater concessions. It is likely that President al-Assad will have pre-empted this move and selected his conditions for leaving power, with the negotiations then beginning from this point.