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Syria: Russia’s peace efforts acquire gravitas - by M.K. Bhadrakumar

The sudden visit by the US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with King Salman at his ranch outside Riyadh can be seen as a swift follow-up on the phone conversation he held with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov the previous day.

Lavrov had initiated the phone call to Kerry, which followed their meeting in Vienna on Friday together with their Turkish and Saudi counterparts. Lavorv also held telephonic conversations on Saturday with his Iranian and Egyptian counterparts.

Evidently, Lavrov and Kerry are engaged in what increasingly seems a combined mutually reinforcing effort to flesh out a peace plan that finds acceptance with the external players who are aligned with them while also not entirely in sync with them as well as with the Syrian parties concerned. The brainpower could be Lavrov’s, but Moscow’s priority is to work with Washington to the extent the latter is willing – the common ground is steadily expanding – rather than indulge in one-upmanship.

In bits and pieces, the contours of a peace plan could be emerging out of these hectic consultations. Consider the following statements made by President Vladimir Putin last Thursday in Sochi (on the eve of the meeting between Lavrov and Kerry in Vienna):
  • I am sure that the Russian military operations [in Syria] will have the necessary positive effect on the situation, helping Syrian authorities to create the conditions for subsequent actions in reaching a political settlement.
  • Here is what we believe we must do to support long-term settlement… First of all, free Syria and Iraq’s territories from terrorists… And to do that, we must join all forces – the Iraqi ad Syrian armies, Kurdish militia, various opposition groups that have actually made a real contribution to fighting terrorists – and coordinate the actions of countries within and outside of the region against terrorism.
  • Second, a military victory over the militants alone will… create conditions for the main thing, namely, the beginning of a political process with the participation of all healthy patriotic forces of the Syrian society… The collapse of Syrian government will only mobilize the terrorists. Right now, instead of undermining the Syrian authorities, we must strengthen them, revive them, by strengthening state institutions in the conflict zone.
  • Of course, the Syrian leadership must establish working contacts with those opposition forces, which are ready for dialogue. As far as I understood from the meeting with President Assad [on Tuesday]…, he is ready for such dialogue”.
Putin was speaking in Sochi at the annual conference of the Valdai Club, an elite forum associated with the Kremlin, but in reality he was addressing President Barack Obama, making an impassioned appeal for Russian-American cooperation and coordination over the Syrian crisis.

From the shift of the tectonic plates since then, it appears Obama is veering round to favoring US-Russian coordination at the diplomatic level in tackling the Syrian problem.

Read more: Syria: Russia’s peace efforts acquire gravitas | Asia Times

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