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article imageUS, UK, and Russia try to push peace agenda for Syria

By Ken Hanly     May 10, 2013 in Politics
Russia and the US both stated their commitment to bringing those on both sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table. Russian President Putin also discussed with UK Prime Minister David Cameron ways in which the Syrian conflict might be ended.
Russia and the US announced that they would call an international conference on Syria by the end of this month. The conference would follow up on the earlier Geneva Communique agreed upon last June. The full text of the document can be found here. At the time, the rebels did not react favorably to the document nor did the Syrian regime.
Nevertheless, both Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the communique should provide a road-map to a new Syria. The plan would require the mutual agreement of the two sides in the conflict as Lavrov points out:“We undertake an obligation to use the possibilities that the US and Russia have to bring both the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiating table. We will do so in partnership with other interested states which should demonstrate their commitment to help the Syrian people to find a political solution to the crisis as soon as possible and within the framework of the Geneva Communiqué.”
However, the conflict seems many-sided on the rebel side at least. Even if the umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, agreed to proposals it is not clear that all the forces on the ground particularly groups such as the Al Nusra front would agree. As Lavrov points out the opposition has not yet even confirmed commitment to the Geneva communique or named representatives to negotiate for the opposition. I expect that the rebels expected the Assad regime to have collapsed by now. The original communique does not explicitly demand that Assad step down a key point in their mind. Lavrov pointed out that it was important that each and every group should be at the negotiating table and that the opposition should be united. This may be an impossible demand.
The US did not engage in heated rhetoric against Assad during the meeting and Kerry stressed that both Russia and the US wanted stability in the region. While the US insists that Assad must give up power, Moscow maintains that such a move should be decided only by the Syrians without foreign interference. However, the Syrians are trying to decide the issue through the very civil war that the US and Russia say they want to stop. Kerry said:“So what we are going to undertake to do is to try to get [the regime and the opposition] in a position where they, representing the people they represent in Syria, the interests they represent, put people into the transitional government by mutual consent.”
For his part, Lavrov termed arming of the rebels a violation of international law:“Arming non-governmental players violates international law. It's not the time to pour oil on the fire of the Syrian conflict. For all outside players it’s time to push all parties – the Syrian government and various opposition groups, political and military - and force them to announce a ceasefire and sit down for talks. Arming the Syrian rebels is betting on a military solution and not a political settlement.”
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, discussed with David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister possible joint measures to help end the conflict in Syria. Putin said: "We have a joint interest in a swift halt to the violence and the creation of the process for a peaceful solution that keeps Syria's territorial integrity and sovereignty." As with the US, the UK want regime change in Syria with Assad to be removed and both see Russia as arming and propping up the Assad regime. Nevertheless, Cameron said that both Russia and the UK wanted to halt the bloodshed, prevent the growth of extremism, and have the Syrian people ultimately elect a new government. However, different parties in the conflict show little sign of giving up the struggle any time soon.
More about US Russian relations, UK Russia relaitons, Syrian civil war
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