Arab commentators: Russia is outplaying US on Syria
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Arab commentators: Russia is outplaying US on Syria

Washington’s efforts to coordinate a Syrian ‘peace summit’ with Moscow are threatened by news of Russian arms sales to Assad’s forces

In this Tuesday, May 7, 2013 file photo, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, left, speaks at a joint news conference as his Jordanian counterpart, Naser Judeh, listens in Amman, Jordan. Salehi wrote in an opinion piece in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar Wednesday, May 8, that it is up to the Syrian people to choose their political system and president, suggesting Tehran is not wedded to Assad's continued rule. (Photo credit: AP/Raad Adayleh)
In this Tuesday, May 7, 2013 file photo, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, left, speaks at a joint news conference as his Jordanian counterpart, Naser Judeh, listens in Amman, Jordan. Salehi wrote in an opinion piece in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar Wednesday, May 8, that it is up to the Syrian people to choose their political system and president, suggesting Tehran is not wedded to Assad's continued rule. (Photo credit: AP/Raad Adayleh)

Less than a week after officials in the United States government began to beat the drums of war in response to evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, US President Barack Obama’s administration appears to have reversed course, working with Russia on a new Syrian “peace conference,” much to the ire of most of the Arab world, Arab dailies report.

US Secretary of State John Kerry recently concluded a two-day visit to Russia, where he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came to an understanding about the need for a second Geneva summit between representatives of the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition to be held within 30 days. Despite this, the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that last night the White House issued a statement declaring that “Syria will not have a future with President Bashar Assad contributing to it.”

“Syria will not have a future with President Bashar Assad contributing to it.”

The White House’s position supports the view taken by the Syrian opposition, which, in response to the call for another peace conference, stated that “the Syrian opposition welcomes all international efforts that call for a political solution to achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people and their hopes for a democratic state. But that begins with the departure of Bashar Assad and his regime.”

According to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the Syrian opposition’s statement went on to criticize the international community for “continuing to put sticks in the wheels of any decisive action against the Assad regime.”

The Syrian opposition may have a point there, especially in light of the US government’s announcement yesterday of its decision to contribute $100 million in humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and in Syria itself. The Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera notes that this increased aid brings the total American contribution to Syrian refugees up to $510 million.

For months the US has deliberated over whether to provide military assistance to the anti-Assad rebels. The Syrian opposition has strongly criticized the US for its inaction on the issue and blames its lack of arms for the fact that there has been no turning point in the Syrian civil war that could lead to Assad’s downfall.

America’s Russian diplomatic partners, however, have had no quandaries about putting weapons in the hands of the side they support. The Dubai-based media channel Al-Arabiya reports that Israel has tipped off the US government of an impending Russian sale of advanced ground-to-air missile systems to the Assad regime. The S-300s, which have a range of 200 kilometers and can strike fighter jets and cruise missiles, are expected to be shipped sometime in the next 3 months.

This news has angered many Arab commentators, who say that Russia’s continued collusion with the Assad regime is proof its efforts to broker a Syrian peace agreement alongside the United States are a complete farce.

“It was said in the joint (Russian-American) press conference that the doors to diplomacy will be left open to all possibilities,” writes Tariq Homayed, the former editor-in-chief of A-Sharq Al-Awsat in an Op-Ed in Al-Arabiya. “The Americans don’t yet understand the price the Russians want for the ouster of Assad.”

“The Americans don’t yet understand the price the Russians want for the ouster of Assad.”

“The meetings in Russia have yielded nothing new at all, not even a single step of progress,” adds former Jordanian Information Minister Saleh al-Qallab in an Op-Ed in A-Sharq Al-Awsat called “Moscow meetings give Assad a chance to continue brutal massacres.”

“The Russian government continues to call the entire Syrian opposition extremists and terrorists. Barack Obama continues to say the US cannot take any action (in Syria) without direct evidence of chemical weapons use. All this does is make the Russian that much more adherent to their positions and is bringing the situation in Syria to even greater deterioration.”

“American foreign policy at this stage is being manipulated by Bashar Assad and giving him the ability to balance the forces on the ground and commit more horrific crimes, shaping Syria on the basis of an increasingly sectarian map,” the article goes on. “Assad is using chemical weapons against his own people. Every day America does not act is another day that the people of Syria see the use of chemical weapons as the status quo.”

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