The article’s author, Lina Al-Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, says that Biden’s agreement to hold the summit is a response to Russia’s vanity, something that could pave the way for US-Russian engagement in Syria beyond the ministerial-level talks that were taking place. behind closed doors.
Lina Al-Khatib added that only Washington can direct the Syrian conflict towards a solution, if it strengthens bilateral talks with Moscow.
Possibility of agreeing to a settlement
She said that despite the tension in US-Russian relations on several fronts, and despite siding with opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, there is a possibility for a US-Russian settlement.
To achieve this, the writer points to the need for Washington to follow a carrot and stick approach that takes advantage of Russia’s weaknesses, as well as from those Russian desires that do not harm the national interests of the United States.
She recalled that Russia had never taken the UN-led peace process in Syria seriously, because there was not much political or military pressure on Moscow to force it to make concessions.
Western diplomacy helped Moscow
The Western diplomatic disengagement from Syria over the past decade has also helped Russia feel emboldened about its approach, as have recent evidence of the reopening of European and Arab embassies in Damascus and the re-election of Assad as President of Syria in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, Which calls for free and fair elections under the supervision of the United Nations.
The writer stated that the Biden administration can change this situation, as Russia is likely to accept the sacrifice of Assad’s presidency, but only in exchange for recognition of its geopolitical status and the continuation of its political and military influence in Syria.
alternative to lion
She said any such deal must provide for the formation of a legitimate political, military and economic alternative to the Assad regime. This entails Russia’s acceptance of the formation of a transitional government in Syria made up of elements from the current regime, but outside the Assad family, and elements from various opposition groups and civil society.
The writer goes on to say that concluding a deal does not mean acquiescing to Russia’s wishes. There are two tools of influence that Washington can use to pressure Moscow to accept the deal. One is for the United States and the European Union to stick to the position that economic sanctions, which hinder the reconstruction process in Syria, will not be lifted before the political transition occurred.
Washington must maintain this position until Moscow agrees to the terms of Security Council Resolution 2254, knowing that Russia is keen on the flow of international reconstruction funds to Syria because it has positioned itself as a mediator in this scenario, with allocating Russian companies to benefit from this income.
Russia accounting file
The writer adds, that the United States, with the second type of influence tool, can move the file of holding Russia accountable for its actions in Syria, including attacks on civilian targets and medical facilities, as Moscow has taken Syria as an arena for testing its weapons, and this has been documented and condemned by international human rights organizations.
She concluded by saying that the Biden administration should not miss the opportunity offered by the US-Russia summit on Syria, because the more time passes, the more Russia attracts other countries to normalize its relations with Assad, and Syria thus becomes a tool for increasing Russia’s influence in the region and beyond.