Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry attended a meeting in Lausanne on October 15 to discuss further steps to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Foreign ministers from seven key regional states – Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt, as Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, – also took part in the talks to stop the violence in Syria. The next day, US State Secretary john Kerry continued discussions with the UK, France and Germany in London.
This was the first attempt to revive the negotiation process since the US suspended the contacts with Russia on Syria on October 3. With no final document signed, the parties agreed to continue the contacts in the coming days. That’s what is important – the dialogue continues. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said several «interesting ideas» were explored.
The new format of the discussion made the Lausanne meeting a very special event. The presence of Turkey and the Persian Gulf nations is a positive development as these actors exert direct influence on many armed opposition groups and can use the leverage to make them comply if an agreement is reached. It is important that Iran – a major actor involved in the conflict – is a party to the talks. Egypt is the largest Arab state, as such it can influence the events in a positive way.
It was not a meeting between those who support the Syrian government headed by President Bashar Assad – Russia and Iran – and those who don’t led by the United States. There is no unity among the members of the so called US-led coalition. For instance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 12 blasted US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s «unfortunate» comments that she would consider arming Syrian Kurdish fighters, branding her proposal «politically inept». During a debate on October 9 with her Republican rival Donald Trump ahead of next month’s presidential election, the Democratic candidate suggested that she would consider providing armed support for Syrian Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State. It reflects the deep divisions between the US, supporting the Syrian Kurds, and Turkey, which is hostile to them. It’s an open secret that the US, Turkey and the Gulf states also have divergent interests, goals and views. Nobody sees the situation in Syria eye-to eye. It takes time and effort to narrow the differences but that’s what diplomacy is for.
The main result of the Lausanne event is that priority is given to negotiations, not military solutions. After long deliberation, the US put aside the implementation of «Plan B» in favor of diplomatic effort. It did right as there is no alternative to talks on the Syrian crisis management. Russia and the US have great responsibility for the outcome and they must keep on trying. As Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said, «Without Russia’s participation it’s impossible to find a solution to the Syrian problem. Only in partnership with Russia will we be able to settle the crisis in Syria».
Regardless of all the frustration with the US as a partner who has failed to live up to its commitments and separate the warring factions in Aleppo according to the Russia-US September 10 agreement, Moscow agreed to resume the discussions in an attempt to save human lives in Syria.
There is an exchange of opinion, new ideas are floated, the parties agreed to continue the process. Despite the ongoing war of words and hostile rhetoric, the pertinent actors are making another try at finding a peaceful solution. Actually, nobody had expected the parties to come up with a final documents and agreements reached. But it’s important that diplomacy is given a chance again and the new format brings together the key players.
The very fact that Lavrov and Kerry held a bilateral meeting to keep the Russia-US dialogue alive is an important step forward. It means the hawks in the US administration have not prevailed. It’s worth mentioning that, despite all the attacks against Russia, Washington never really stopped contacts behind closed doors. Before the talks State Department spokesman John Kirby said the bilateral talks had been suspended but were «not dead». Kirby also emphasized the importance of both tracks of the talks with Moscow.
A dialogue, no matter how hard it is, better than a confrontation. With diplomats talking to each other there is always a chance. «There is a need to behave like partners and take each other's interests into account», Russian President Putin said, referring to US-Russian ties. «We are ready for that».