[Marxism] U.S. Backs Off Hard Line on Syrian President’s Future
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 30 07:20:57 MDT 2015
(A rather misleading article title given the history of the past four
years. It should have been worded: "U.S. Backs Off Verbal Hard Line on
Syrian President’s Future".
WSJ, Oct. 29 2015
U.S. Backs Off Hard Line on Syrian President’s Future
White House signals it would allow Bashar al-Assad to take part in
by CAROL E. LEE and ADAM ENTOUS
The Obama administration entered a crucial round of international talks
on Syria’s war prepared to accept a deal that leaves President Bashar
al-Assad in place for several months or more during the transition to a
The U.S. shift on the dictator’s future caps months of backtracking on
the most significant obstacle to a resolution of the Syrian conflict.
While U.S. officials once argued Mr. Assad couldn’t take part in a
political transition, they have gradually eased that stance, eventually
signaling he wouldn’t have to step down immediately. Now they are
planning to negotiate the question of his future in talks being held
Friday in Vienna.
The White House hasn’t publicly set a time frame for Mr. Assad’s
departure to give U.S. negotiators room to maneuver in the Vienna talks,
But in advance of negotiations, administration officials discussed a
resolution with U.S. allies, including Turkey, that would allow Mr.
Assad to remain in place after a cease-fire in the 4½-year conflict.
The resolution the U.S. is seeking would include a cease-fire and would
“not prejudge the Assad question,” a senior administration official said.
The approach reflects new realities imposed in Syria by Russia and Iran,
which have intensified military operations to bolster Mr. Assad. It also
follows recent challenges faced by the American-led fight against
Russia and Iran are taking part in Friday’s conference, along with Mr.
Assad’s Arab adversaries. In all, the meeting brings together more than
a dozen European and Middle Eastern foreign ministers. The inclusion of
Iran represents a change after the U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked
Tehran’s participation previously.
Russia and Iran have demanded Mr. Assad retain power. America’s Arab
allies are demanding a clear timeline for when Mr. Assad would step
down, U.S. and Arab officials said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Vienna on Thursday,
intensified discussions in recent weeks with Mr. Assad’s biggest
opponents, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, to try to gain
their support for a diplomatic resolution that would allow the Syrian
dictator to stay in power during a transition, these officials said.
The U.S. wields limited influence on the battlefield, making it critical
for Washington to persuade those three countries and others to join in
the effort because of the power they exercise over the rebel groups they
Administration officials say they don’t expect any breakthroughs in the
talks on Friday but hope for an agreement on holding additional meetings.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday said the outcome
depends on the positions taken by Russia and Iran. “It’s unlikely that
it will be clear right away, whether or not they’re willing to use that
influence to hasten this political transition,” he said. “The position
of the United States has not changed. And that is simply that President
Assad has lost legitimacy to lead Syria and he should go.”
The inclusion of Iran in the negotiations has prompted administration
officials to express some optimism that an agreement could be reached.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said this week that there is
potential for an agreement on a political transition in Damascus that
“begins perhaps with Assad still in power, but it doesn’t end with him
On Thursday, Thomas Shannon, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be
undersecretary of state, said Mr. Kerry is seeking to ascertain whether
Russia and Iran are prepared “to convince Mr. Assad that during a
political transition process, he will have to go.”
During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Shannon said Mr. Kerry “thought it
was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff.”
The U.S. diplomacy is placing the Arab states and Turkey in a bind, as
many of them have provided significant arms and funding to the largely
Sunni rebel forces seeking to overthrow Mr. Assad.
Saudi Arabia, in particular, has publicly criticized Russia’s military
intervention in Syria, arguing it could strengthen Mr. Assad and
Shiite-dominated Iran, his closest Middle East ally.
Still, Saudi Arabia is finding it difficult to oppose the new round of
diplomacy because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s heavy military
investment in Syria. Saudi officials have been holding their own direct
talks with the Kremlin and have also pressed for a clear time line for
when Mr. Assad would be forced to stand down, senior Arab officials said.
Mr. Obama’s position in the early days of Syria’s civil war was that Mr.
Assad had to step down immediately as part of any resolution to the
conflict, but that position shifted as the regime held together and the
spread of Islamic State has become a higher priority.
The administration’s primary aim now is to get warring parties to abide
by a cease-fire, so the U.S. can more effectively zero in on Islamic
State and give new momentum to the stalled fight.
As a result, the administration’s view is Mr. Assad’s future can be
dealt with later.
Current and former U.S. officials say the White House’s acceptance of
Russian and Iranian demands on keeping Mr. Assad in power at least
temporarily will make it hard—if not impossible— for the administration
to get the different rebel factions fighting the regime to sign on to a
But officials say getting even a limited number of rebel groups at first
to agree to a cease-fire could help put pressure on others to go along
with the deal or risk being targeted alongside Islamic State and Nusra
Front, Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate.
A linchpin of the Obama administration’s strategy in Syria has been to
put enough military pressure on Mr. Assad to persuade him and those
around him to negotiate a settlement to the conflict. This year, U.S.
officials said they thought Mr. Assad was finally feeling that pressure
as rebel groups, some backed by the Central Intelligence Agency, closed
in on regime strongholds.
But they say the Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria in recent
weeks threw Mr. Assad a lifeline, at least for the time being,
challenging U.S. assumptions about how long he can retain power.
The administration hopes to convince Moscow that it made a mistake by
intervening militarily in Syria and that it needs to look for a
diplomatic off ramp as soon as possible before Russian casualties start
to mount. But officials said it is unclear how long it will take for
Moscow to feel enough pressure to look for an exit.
—Jay Solomon and Valentina Pop contributed to this article.
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