Ignoring Bashar al-Assad with a few euphemisms

Without resolving the Assad issue, any American-Russian understanding on Syria will be incomplete

Raed Omari
Raed Omari
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Before heading to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington and Moscow have an “understanding” on what needs to be achieved in Syria.

Stopping short from giving further details on how to allow the "quiet business" of peacemaking to continue on Syria”, Kerry said, following his meeting with Lavrov, that the agreed-upon American-Russian steps on the Syrian war are not based “on trust” but they define the “specific sequential responsibilities all parties to the conflict must assume.”

The American-Russian understanding on Syria, as clarified briefly by Kerry, is on coordinating the fight against the al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and halting the Syrian regime’s bombing of Aleppo and other cities. But this understanding is definitely half-finished and will be short-lived, simply because it is not focused primarily on the Syrian war’s most complicated issue: Bashar al-Assad’s fate.

Knowing that touching upon Assad’s fate now would add more complications to the already-complicated peace-making efforts, Kerry has avoided to even hint at Assad’s power grab, outlining the understanding to be on jointly fighting Al-Nusra and ending hostilities. As such, Kerry’s assurances of an understanding with Moscow are better to be viewed as a kind of ‘diplomatic euphemism’ than real, concrete steps.

Certainly, there is no deal yet between the Americans and Russians on Syria or even a deal in the making and the alleged or hoped-for ‘understanding’ is on less problematic issues that, even if settled, make for a crumbling foundation. It is, in brief, an attempt by Kerry to diplomatically, gradually and quietly break up the Russians’ stubborn stance on Syria and Assad.

Without resolving the Assad issue, any American-Russian understanding on Syria will be incomplete

Raed Omari

In demanding the cessation of hostilities and the Syrian regime’s bombardment of civilians, Kerry wants the Russians to pressure Assad to ground his jets or, indirectly, their jets which target the U.S.-backed moderate opposition – an envisioned objective that is also implied in his call on Moscow to join in the fight against Al-Nusra.

But why is Al-Nusra, in particular, and not ISIS Kerry’s focus? Kerry is sure that coordinating the fight against ISIS with the Russians is a lot more sensitive because it would be inseparable from the rising NATO-Moscow tensions and would mean that America and Russia, for the first time ever, would fight a common ‘formidable’ enemy together and would exchange intelligence for that purpose. The Turkish-Kurdish dilemma and Iran are also other sensitive issues that will be incorporated into bringing Moscow to the US-led anti-ISIS, as well as Russian pride that could halt all these efforts. That is why Al-Nusra was Kerry’s major focus.

In brief, Kerry is seeking to rearrange the overlapping stakes of key players in Syria with the hope of creating a sustainable foundation for a credible political transition shaped on American terms. But could that be possible with the very few months left for Kerry in office? And until Kerry manages to penetrate Moscow’s stubborn stances on Syria, if he ever does, how many Syrians will die and how many terror attacks will the world have witnessed?

Without resolving the Assad issue, any American-Russian understanding on Syria will be incomplete and will always obstruct peacemaking efforts in the war-torn country. The Americans and Russians have again seemingly agreed to disagree on Syria’s most troubling issue, which the whole ongoing conflict is based upon.


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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