Monday 21 January 2019

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Syria: Russians and Americans continue to collaborate

Secret meetings are held on the sidelines of the official talks in Geneva. What happens at the Palais des Nations is only part of the process to attempt to break the deadlock of the quagmire in Syria.

Again, this question, which may depend the lives of tens of thousands of people: while the Geneva talks severely sputtering , the cease-fire in Syria will be swept away by the lack of political progress ? On Friday, Aleppo had one of his worst days since months.

In Geneva, the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said: “. We are in great danger if we do not act very quickly,” Even President Barack Obama in London said he was “very worried” of an outright collapse of the truce, more or less in force since February 27. Behind the curtains, however, the situation could be a bit more nuanced, according to information gathered by the newspaper Le Temps.

Discreetly, and in the back of the International “task force” which is supposed to discuss in Geneva, Russian and US diplomats have thus gathered again Friday night to find a way to calm the situation. From the beginning, in fact, the two major powers have taken over the process, not letting show at the Palais des Nations a small part. “Our views are different, but we are in very close contact” said a diplomatic source.

It is in a neighboring Arab countries of Syria, away from the media concentrated in Geneva that this meeting was held. There is work for diplomats. While in Aleppo at least 25 civilians were killed on Friday by Syrian Air Force, the Russians themselves, according to information confirmed by the Americans, routed in the area of ​​heavy weapons reminiscent of a joint initiative between Moscow and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We never undertake such an operation. We have invested too much in Syria to risk losing our capital, “says a Russian diplomat. But with this precision, which radically changes the situation: “As Americans, we have a mandate to continue to fight the organization of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorists.” A reference to the two groups that are not involved in the cease-fire.

What worries: the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda

Now, according to the Russians, what is at stake today is the step forward of the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda would have already seized several towns of Aleppo. A way of playing with words and give a free hand, while the fighters of Al Qaeda are intertwined with those of many other groups? Surprisingly, Steve Warren, a US colonel did not say anything at a public meeting issued by the Department of Defense:

“We are certainly concerned. But it is above all Al Nusra holding Aleppo and, of course, Al Nusra is not part of the truce. So it’s complicated. “

This relative “understanding” between Moscow and Washington is also at work in Geneva. Several sources thus confirm the meeting behind closed doors between the advisor of US President Robert Malley and his Russian alter ego Alexander Lavrentiev. A secret meeting about much more than a courtesy visit.

The idea? Advance as much as possible together on the contours of the political transition in Syria, the role of Assad, but also on the new Syrian constitution and even the institutions of Syria after the war.

Can a “Lebanese solution” be envisaged?

So, a little bit on the Lebanese model, it could be question of “duplicate” certain positions, to share between supporters of the regime and the different oppositions. Endorsed by a political opponent (who is not a member of the High Committee negotiations, HCN or branch supported by Washington), a draft of this model would arrive on Staffan de Mistura office – specifically, an Assad President flanked with three vice-presidents.
The UN official has put the proposal on behalf of an “expert” that it did not name. But it helped to anger the opposition of HCN, the convincing, among other reasons, to “suspend” its presence in Geneva. It is unlikely that the Russians and Americans were not involved in the process.
Robert Malley was nicknamed in Washington “the anti-Daech tsar”, as its primary purpose is to show results against the jihadists before the end of the second term of Barack Obama. At the risk of many compromises on Syria? On the sidelines of the visit of the US president in Saudi Arabia, the head slipped: he must end the war in Syria for humanitarian reasons, but also “for the countries involved in the fighting are able, when a political solution is found, to focus on the fight against Al Qaeda and the IE “.

Article published on Le Temps website

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