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Russia, US, Syria: Time to Talk | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Russia, US, Syria: Time to Talk

President Obama needs to put an end to NATO’s warmongering on Syria, and quick. I don’t know what he said to President Putin last week, but if it wasn’t, “I’d really like to work with you and the United Nations to quiet Syria down,” then he’d better get on the red phone.

Judging by recent events, that’s not where Obama is headed. I don’t think that Obama wants war over Syria, but I don’t think he wanted war in Libya until various forces arrayed to push him in that direction. Already the CIA is reportedly stumbling around southern Turkey mucking it up with various members of the ragtag Syrian rebel movement that is fast funneling more and more lethal weapons into Syria’s civil war. Meanwhile, Turkey is trying to rally the United States and NATO to support Ankara over the hoked-up crisis over the shootdown of a Turkish spy plane. 

It’s entirely possible that the main mission of the CIA, in this case, is to sort out who’s who among the rebels, since undoubtedly the more level-headed people in Washington are saying to themselves, “Who are these guys?” (I’m wondering that myself.) but it’s equally possible, and more likely, that the CIA is involving itself more deeply in coordinating the weapons flow into Syria. That’s been reported for a while now, and if so it means that the Obama administration is edging closer to an open, armed regime-change strategy aimed at a major Russian and Iranian ally.

Meanwhile, even Turkey’s NATO  allies seem to be privately ridiculing Turkey’s assertion that its plane was on a training mission. That seems patent nonsense, and much more likely is that Turkey was testing Syria’s air defense and perhaps trying to provoke the creation of a NATO-imposed, Iraq-style no-fly zone in Syria. Had Syrian jets scrambled to protect its air space, by now hawks and quite a few Obama administration officials would be clamoring for a no-fly edict backed by US armed forces. This is dangerous, Tonkin Gulf–style gamesmanship.

The question is, Why isn’t Obama speaking out aggressively in defense of the UN, the Kofi Annan plan and the need to arrange a cease-fire and a negotiated solution? (Part of the answer, as always: politics at home. Another part of the answer: the administration’s desire to poke Iran in the eye.)

Russia will attend a meeting in Geneva aimed at the Syrian crisis on June 30, and Hillary Clinton will hold pre-discussions with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. Clinton is threatening not to go to Geneva if the Russians don’t agree that the focus of the meeting is to force President Assad out of power. A US official told reporters:

“For us, the key thing is that the participants in the meeting agree on the way forward including political transition in Syria. I think if Kofi Annan can get the proposed participants to agree on such a plan for political transition, then there will be a meeting. But that’s what we need to find out before we go to any meeting. If other proposed participants agree to that, then the secretary will go to the meeting and we’ll try to advance it in that way. What it can’t be is just another round of dialogue for dialogue’s sake with the regime. And that’s our view. And I think, frankly, it’s the view of a very large number of members of the international community.”

 Maybe, but the fact is that right now the Free Syrian Army, other rebels and the Muslim Brotherhood are convinced they’re winning in Syria, and so they don’t believe in any dialogue or compromise, even if it means that eventually Assad steps down, Yemen-style.

Lavrov, meanwhile, wants Iran to attend the Geneva meeting, which the United States wrongly opposes. Said Lavrov:

“We are ready to go. Iran must be present. Otherwise the circle of participants will be incomplete and will not gather everybody who has influence on all Syrian sides. I think it (Iran) must be invited. There is an understanding (about this) among those who are most actively organizing it.”

Stay tuned. This could get a lot uglier, fast. Obama must weigh in personally, rather than leave it to spokesmen and to Clinton.

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