TheWashington Post piece, written in a tone more reminiscent of a teacher scoldinga misbehaving student than a report on the results of Russian-US negotiationsover Syria, explained that "a final proposal" on a ceasefire and apossible joint counterterrorism operation was given to Russian officials onMonday during a meeting between President Putin and President Obama in China.
The paperwent on to cite Obama deputy national security advisor Benjamin Rhodes, whoemphasized on Tuesday that Washington is "not going to take a deal thatdoesn't meet our basic objectives." Following Monday's meeting between theRussian and US presidents, Russia's Foreign Ministry announced that ForeignMinister Sergei Lavrov would speak with Secretary of State John Kerry in Genevalater this week. But the State Department didn't confirm this meeting and indoing so, "made clear that they saw no purpose in yet another negotiatingsession if Russia has not changed its position," The Washington Postexplained. Nevertheless, Lavrov and Kerry did end up speaking on Thursday,albeit by telephone. What is Washington's Syrian peace offer? According to TheWashington Post, "the proposal calls for a cease-fire in civil warfighting throughout the country, including in and around the besieged city ofAleppo, and the safe, sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance."Then, "once the truce is in place for a specified time period, the SyrianAir Force is to be officially grounded." After that, "the UnitedStates and Russia are to initiate a joint air campaign against counterterrorismtargets."
The"outlines of the deal were agreed two weeks ago," the paper added,"but US officials have [since] accused Russia of backtracking on someelements, including the timing and duration of a ceasefire before other aspectsof the agreement begin."
Emphasizingthe drama and urgency of the ceasefire deal, what Washington and US mediadoesn't seem to realize is that Moscow's partner in Syria is Damascus. Andgetting the Syrian government to agree to halt its military campaign against'moderate rebels' that they consider terrorists is easier said than done.Syrian President Bashar Assad has been very clear that in his government'sview, those who take up arms against the state are not opposition, butterrorists; this, he emphasized, is a definition that holds true around theworld, and not just in Syria. In the meantime, the so-called moderate rebels,if they exist, are intertwined and collaborating with Islamist groups supportedby Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States, making it very difficult to'separate flies from cutlets'. This, incidentally, is a problem The WashingtonPost itself admitted. Finally, with Syrian government forces recently closingthe ring around areas of Aleppo under militant control, it may be difficult forMoscow to convince Damascus on the need to halt its operations in a situationwhere the Syrian Army can almost taste victory in the country's second city,which would doubtlessly help bring the war to its resolution.
The US hasbeen particularly concerned by developments in Aleppo. Last week, StateDepartment special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney laid out a series of veryspecific steps on a ceasefire, complete with the requirement that governmentforces withdraw their heavy equipment from the area around Castello Road, theAleppo militants' main supply lifeline in the north.
TheWashington Post even cited the letter, which reads that "if the cease-fireextends to 7 days…checkpoints are set up and all forces are withdrawn, then theUS and Russia will work on stopping the regime planes from flying and will worktogether to weaken al-Qaeda in Syria." While it's obvious that the US willalways support 'their guys' in Aleppo, it's unclear how the US plan is actuallymeant to weaken al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which recentlyrebranded itself and formally disassociated itself from the terrorist group.More than anything, Ratney's plan feels like an attempt to stall for time toprevent Aleppo militants from being annihilated. Whatever the case may be, onThursday, the Kremlin officially responded to The Washington Post's article,presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov saying that it "doesn't fullycorrespond to reality." "The Syrian topic was indeed discussed ingreat detail by the two presidents, and in even greater detail by Lavrov andKerry," Peskov noted. "There really was a discussion on a certaindocument. However, this document has not yet been finalized, as there are stillsome unresolved issues remaining, and work continues," he added. Peskovalso emphasized that all points in the possible agreement are being discussed"in the format of compromise," added that on "a small number ofoutstanding issues, compromise has not yet been reached." What thoseissues are remains unclear, but their existence indicates that for one reasonor another, on one issue or another, Moscow has rejected Washington's effort tofoist an unfavorable agreement on Russia and on Syria.
At a pressconference in Washington on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mark tonerhinted at Washington's tough line, noting that "we're not going to settlefor a less than ideal deal."
Toner's comment immediately prompted a responseby veteran Washington press corps journalist Matthew Lee, who pointed out thatsuccessful negotiation requires compromise by its very definition. "Peoplealways settle for less than the ideal; it's the risk of sacrificing the goodfor the perfect, where the perfect is impossible," Lee said. That sentiment sums up the essence of theSyrian negotiations. Because while US officials and media can huff and puffabout the urgency of reaching an agreement, Russia and Syria won't allowthemselves to be swindled into a trap. At the same time, it's worth rememberingthroughout that Damascus understands the need for a peaceful resolution to theconflict more than any other party, since Syrians are the ones who have beendying in the fighting.