US Says No to Russia’s Initiative to Launch Broad Political Dialogue on Syria

US Says No to Russia’s Initiative to Launch Broad Political Dialogue on Syria

Washington has refused to receive a Russian military delegation, headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to discuss coordinated action on the fight against terrorism in Syria. 

«We have proposed to Americans what President Vladimir Putin informed the public about yesterday, namely, to send a delegation of military experts to Moscow to agree on a whole number of joint steps, afterwards we would be ready to send a high delegation led by Prime Minister Medvedev to Washington» Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Russian Parliament on October 14.

«Today we were told that they will not be able to send a delegation to Moscow. At the same time, they are unable to receive our delegation in Washington», he added.

«I believe this position is unconstructive. The weakness of this stance is based on the apparent lack of any agenda. It seems that there is nothing to talk about», Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his visit Kazakhstan.

Putin also said he could not understand why Washington criticizes Russia’s operation in Syria as it refuses to hold a direct dialogue itself. The Russian leader stressed that Russia «leaves the door open for» the discussion on Syria with all the parties concerned.

The delegation was to include top ranking military, such as a deputy chief of the General Staff, and security officers. The chance to start a serious and comprehensive dialogue on a burning issue is missed. There are weighty arguments to question the wisdom of this decision taken by US administration. 

The US has recently shifted its stance on Assad. Now it concedes that Assad does not have to go immediately, he can stay for a transitional period of time.

Russia has stated on many occasions that Assad remaining in power is not an end in itself, the main thing is to prevent the Syrian statehood from collapse and the following uncontrolled chaos. The Libyan scenario should not be repeated. These stances create a basis for talks and common understanding. And there a lot of factors to necessitate a political dialogue. 

With the death toll of more than 250 thousand people and 12 million of Syrians displaced, including four million asylum seekers outside their country, the time has come to take the bull by the horn and find a political settlement of Syrian conflict. The military success of the extremist Islamic State and other extremists has greatly confounded the situation. 

After protracted and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is not ready for major military intervention. President Obama said there will be no boots on the ground. He wants to «rally other nations». Once the major goal is the same it makes sense for Washington and Moscow to stay in touch on Syria going beyond the military talks on incident prevention. The US has failed to stem the advance of the Islamic State in Syria. Facts on the ground have demonstrated that the current Syrian government enjoys much more support and resilience than the US expected. Russia is an increasingly important player in Syria. Any political solution will have to take it into account. The US has little choice but to accommodate itself to that reality, and explore whether a political solution to the Syrian conflict is achievable. Thus, like it or not, some form of U.S.-Russia cooperation is indispensable and inevitable. 

The US administration can either continue airstrikes and render aid to the so called «moderate» opposition groups it knows so little about or try to build a unified coalition to fight the Islamic State and give less priority to ousting Assad. As Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump told CNN, «We are fighting Assad and fighting for people, helping people ...we even don’t understand who they are. And they may be worse than Assad. They may be worse», Trump reiterated. However, he emphasized that he was «not saying Assad is a good guy».

Trump stressed that he has nothing against the Russian anti-terrorist operation in Syria. «I like that Putin is bombing the hell out of ISIS», Trump said, adding that he believes that the target of the airstrikes is indeed «going to be ISIS».

If successful, U.S.-Russia cooperation could favorably alter the situation. It could include coordination of air strikes with ground operations as well as joint efforts to persuade other regional states to participate in the operation and to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces excluding the Islamic State.

The US and Russia share an interest in limiting and ultimately defeating the extremists. They also share an interest in a return to stability in Syria, even if they don’t see eye to eye on what that stability should be like.

All told, the developments reinforce the case for all the parties urgently to join efforts. 

Despite the recent complicated developments in international affairs, the relations between the two powers remain a key factor in the global situation as long as the issue of security remains high on the international policy agenda. In this sphere, the effectiveness of combating the proliferation of nuclear weapons (and other types of weapons of mass destruction) and international terrorism, as well as the resolution of crises in a number of most important regions depend primarily on Russia and the United States. The recent agreements on Syria and the resumed talks on Iran’s nuclear program are noteworthy examples of the utmost importance of such cooperation.

The two parties have been able to solve more complicated problems even during the years of the Cold War with political will and the support of the expert community.

An extremist victory in Syria is a possibility, but it’s not inevitable. This should serve as primary motivation for launching a dialogue between Russia and the US with the goal of finding a pathway to political resolution of the conflict. The time has come for major global and regional stakeholders in Syria to start discussing a political settlement with power-sharing as the main political objective of negotiations to end the civil war. The refusal to coordinate goals and activities with Russia only deepens the conflict and increases the danger of a military confrontation with other major powers in the region. Unless the major powers are serious about ending the civil war, the misery in Syria will continue and deepen, creating an even larger humanitarian crisis.

«Yes, there are very many mutual suspicions and mutual accusations, but if we don’t work towards a solution, it could never be found», Putin said announcing his decision to send the delegation. «We hope we will be able to move along the path of settling political problems».

The US has made clear it is not interested in peaceful settlement in Syria. Time will show if the decision to refuse a dialogue with Russia is a wise thing to do. Probably it not, as the lessons of US recent interventions in the Middle East have shown. There is one more strong argument in favor of putting the credibility of US Middle East policy into question. 

Tags: Russia  Syria  US