The agreement between the United States and Russia on holding an international conference, to lay down the mechanisms for a political transitional process in Syria, can certainly serve as a new beginning to efforts by the two superpowers to reach a minimum level of agreement on ways to deal with the Syria crisis. This coincides with their struggle by proxy in Syria, a struggle that is governed by many constraints, and the interests of both sides. An important point for both countries is to see the war continue, to serve the objectives of both Russia and the US, while another involves each side’s testing the extent of its regional influence; this is irrespective of the atrocities that the Syrian regime carries out on a daily basis.
After their meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, both Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed their anxiety about seeing the Syrian crisis turn into a regional confrontation; they justified their new understanding to preserve the unity of Syria out of fear of the repercussions for the entire region, should the country disintegrate. However, their motives for arriving at this understanding give the impression that there are other, more fundamentally-important reasons for trying to achieve consensus on the Syria issue.
The US needs to avoid any dispute with Russia that has a negative impact on the priority issue of implementing Security Council sanctions in Iran over its nuclear program. Thus, Washington is keen to stay away from any step in its rivalry with Moscow that might affect other issues, such as Russia’s withdrawal from the international consensus on sanctions and the 5+1 negotiations with Tehran.
Despite the importance of the agreement between Kerry and Lavrov, UN and European circles have responded with limited enthusiasm, based on past experience. For example, the Geneva agreement on the Syrian crisis remained unimplemented, because of the discrepancy between the stances of Moscow and other countries when it came to defining the mechanism for establishing “a transitional governing body with full executive powers,” i.e. whether Syrian President Bashar Assad would have a role in this authority, or would be excluded from it. After Moscow agreed to hold an international conference, statements by American officials hinted that this point remained disputed. This leads to the impression that efforts to bolster the Geneva agreement remain limited to avoiding disputes, and not agreeing on the meaning of the document. This is especially because there are no signs that either the Russians or the Americans have received the answers to a group of questions about the content of an international conference, such as:
1-After Geneva, and after each time there is an agreement on its mechanism for solutions in Syria after more than two years of conflict, there is a question about Iran’s position – especially since it was not part of these solutions, which later failed. The same question arises today about an international conference, which Moscow and Washington intend to convene. Will Iran be invited to attend, after it was excluded, along with Saudi Arabia, from the Geneva meeting? Will Saudi Arabia be invited, if Iran is not?
2-Will Israel be invited to participate in the international conference, after its warplanes carried out raids on areas near Damascus, making it a “player” in the conflict? Will Israel be invited to take part, in exchange for Iran’s taking part, if the latter is invited? Will Iran accept Israeli participation in mapping out the future of Syria, or will both countries be excluded? Moreover, there are several Arab countries that will reject Israeli participation in such a conference. Meanwhile, several western circles believe that American permission for Israel to conduct air strikes in Syria was aimed at getting the Jewish state involved in the conflict, so that it is not limited to key regional players Turkey and Iran. In addition, there are other objectives, such as the testing of Russian air defense capabilities in Syria; it was demonstrated that American aircraft used by Israeli pilots could overcome these defenses. Is Israeli intervention about the trading off of tests of weaponry, or confronting Hezbollah, which is receiving weapons via Syria, so that it will have no role in the international conference?
3-Last but not least, if the international conference is supposed to embrace the US-Russian agreement to improve the language of the Geneva agreement vis-à-vis a solution for Syria, then why not speed things up, with an agreement between the two superpowers on issuing a Security Resolution that is binding on the parties to the conflict? This would include sending peacekeeping forces to Syria or troops to guarantee stability, to stop the killing and implement the political solution, instead of waiting for such a solution to be produced by an international conference, which could then require heading for the UN.
There are many questions about the international conference and the degree to which the recent Russian-US agreement will be effective in speeding up a solution, and it appears that work in this direction will be influenced by developments on the ground in Syria.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.