Is there a Kerry-Lavrov understanding?

Right wing opinion in the US with think tanks like Brookings in the Vanguard is now firm: Shia-Sunni conflict will define West Asian politics in the foreseeable future. The way the dice is loaded at the moment, the West sees its interests served best in alliance with the Sunnis. There is an unstated acceptance of Sunni terrorism as an asset.

At a recent seminar in New Delhi, Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State with President Bill Clinton, minced no words: Moscow will be made to pay by Sunni Muslims in Russia’s backyard for what Putin is doing in Syria.

The implication is that Russian intervention in Syria is decisively helping President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power. In the altered vocabulary in West Asia, Assad is not a Baathist but an Alawite leader and Alawites are a variety of Shia— the mortal enemies of Sunnis.

What Talbott is implying is this: for the reverses being heaped on them, the Sunnis are going to take revenge on Russia. Muslim populations across the Caucasus would plague Putin with masterstrokes of terrorism.

When ex Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan turned up at the Kremlin on July 31, 2013, his conversation with Putin contained just the sort of threat Strobe Talbott’s response exuded. If only Putin would give him Assad’s head on a platter, Bandar would give him the moon. Sochi Winter Olympics would pass without a terrorist incident. Bandar claimed considerable control on terrorist groups in the region.

Americans are miffed that all their efforts at regime change in Damascus at least since August 2011 have been in vain. How many times ex-secretary of state and now Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, imperiously waved her hand: “Get out of the way Assad.”

Well, Assad is still in the Damascus Presidential Palace, exactly as predicted in September 2011. The argument was straightforward. The US had occupied Iraq in April 2003. It had dismantled the Baath Party structure, the army, Presidential guards, the Mukhabarat (intelligence), stayed in Iraq for over a decade and then left without any identifiable war aims achieved.

Yes, the Shias in the south oppressed, by Saddam Hussain, were thrilled. Naturally they co-operated - but only up to a point. So moved was Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that he recommended Ayatullah Sistani for the Nobel Peace Prize.

(The writer is a senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs. Views expressed are strictly personal.)

Global powers have agreed that a free and inclusive election would resolve the question of Assad’s future although the UN resolution does not definitively address his fate. It is absurd to think that the Russians and the Iranians would throw Assad under the bus after coming so far. It’s not going to happen. Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country is ready to scale up its military intervention in Syria, despite the UN resolution. Meanwhile, the US, its western allies and Saudi Arabia continue to push for Assad’s ouster. As per the UN resolution, the political transition is scheduled to begin in January, with talks set to take place between representatives of the Assad regime and an opposition coalition, put together in Riyadh after a meeting of Syrian opposition and rebels on December 10 (M Post)
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