US signals shift as moment of truth for Syria nears

US signals shift as moment of truth for Syria nears

Realizing that the violent status quo in civil war-hit Syria will bring nothing but more catastrophic consequences to the Middle East, two reluctant allies, the United States and Russia, have taken the lead in diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution to the conflict, which is now more than two years old.

The U.S.-Russian agreement, which stirred mix reactions from both the direct and indirect parties to the conflict, would not be inevitable if the stakes were not high given their interests in the region. The deal came amid the growing possibility the Syrian conflict could spill over after the Israeli air raids on the country, the mounting threat posed by an al-Qaeda-linked group, as well as growing claims about the use of chemical weapons by both the regime and opposition rebels. 

Those were the factors that brought about the U.S.-Russia consensus, with obviously given concessions by both Washington and Moscow. At least for now, the symptoms signal that the U.S. could inch toward the Russian stance. Having long appeared staunch in its call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, the United States is still insistent about giving no role to the embattled leader in the transition period for his country after the meetings in Moscow. That being said, the rhetoric of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been engaged in frantic diplomatic tours since coming to office, and the immediate reactions from both the regime and opposition forces, gave the initial signs of a shift in the U.S. position. 

The top U.S. diplomat foresees no position for al-Assad in the transition. He openly called on the president to relinquish all his powers, but also said it would be the Syrian people who would decide their future after the transition period. In his individual note, Kerry said he could not imagine al-Assad governing, but unlike his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, he did not entirely rule out a scenario in which al-Assad remained at the helm but shared some of his powers with the opposition. 

The shift in the U.S. stance is actually the sole viable – and almost “win-win” – solution to the Syrian crisis, with all sides making some compromises on their initial stance. This is – it may be surprising for some, but it is time to wake up – basically called diplomacy. After more than two years, it has become obvious that al-Assad will not give up his seat in any event in the near future. 

It is also crystal-clear that the divided opposition does not have the power or capacity to force a regime change in the country, to say the least without a foreign intervention similar to the one in Libya. 

A military intervention in Syria has so far been off the table, and it will not get any nearer in the upcoming days, especially after U.S. President Barack Obama’s reiteration that he would not be putting any boots on Syrian ground two weeks ago. With no military backing – either in terms of aid or aggression – from the West, the Syrian opposition has been increasingly losing ground in the country, with the weakening existence of its armed group, the Free Syrian Army, against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra on the battlefield. 

With the U.S.-Russian deal, the opposition also realized that it may come to a point where the dissidents have to backpedal from their core demand of seeing al-Assad leave. Thus, they were quick to criticize the agreement. On the opposite side, the regime welcomed the accord, in another sign that the wheels of diplomacy may finally turn in the country. 

An almost “win-win” station for the Syrian crisis would greatly annoy the staunch regional anti-al-Assad camp, including Turkey, which remains defiant on ousting the Syrian president. The Syrian issue will have the utmost importance during Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the United States, and his meeting with Obama will witness his ultimate strongest stand in trying to convince the U.S. president for a swift, clear solution. 

Despite the early signals of a solution to the Syrian turmoil after the U.S.-Russian rapprochement on the issue, the delicate situation is still on thin ice, but what is clear today is that the moment of truth for Syria is nearer than ever before. It is ironic, but it is impossible not to link this first move in the long run to an unexpected arch-foe, Israel, which, in fact, provided fuel for these reluctant international efforts.