After two tries, US Secretary of State John Kerry finally turned President Barack Obama away from his four-year insistence that Bashar Assad must go, as a precondition for a settlement of the Syrian conflict. Tuesday, night, Dec. 15, the Secretary announced in Moscow: “The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change.”
After Kerry's first try, Obama still stuck to his guns. He said in Manilla on Nov.19 that he didn’t believe the civil war in Syria “will end while the dictator remains in power.”
Almost a month went by and then, Tuesday night, after a day of dickering with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov culminating in a joint conference with Putin at the Kremlin, Kerry confirmed this evolution in US policy. The focus now, he said, is "not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad." Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which "Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria."
This statement brought Washington in line with Moscow’s demand for the Syrian president’s future to be determined by his own people.
On this demand, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is even more obdurate than Putin.
debkafile’s Middle East sources wonder about the measure of freedom the Syrian people can expect while it is clamped firmly in a military vice by Russia, Iran and Hizballah. However, this was of no immediate concern to the big power players. Washington’s surrender to the Russian and Iranian line on Assad’s future was offered in the short-term hope of progress at the major international conference on the Syrian question taking place in New York Friday.
Another major US concession – this one to Tehran – was scarcely noticed.
Earlier Tuesday, the UN nuclear watchdog's 35-nation board in Vienna closed its investigation into whether Iran sought atomic weapons, opting to back the international deal with Tehran rather than dwell on Iran's past activities.
This motif of going forward toward the future rather than dwelling on the past was a repeat of the argument for keeping Assad in power. It provided an alibi for letting Tehran get away with the suspicion of testing a nuclear detonation at its Parchin military complex, without forfeiting sanctions relief, by the simple device of denying access to UN nuclear agency monitors to confirm those suspicions.
In a single day, the Obama administration handed out certificates of legitimacy to the Syrian dictator, who is responsible for more than a quarter of a million deaths, and to Iran’s advances toward a nuclear weapon.
These epic US policy reversals carried three major messages:
1. The Obama administration has lined up behind Putin’s Middle East objectives which hinge on keeping Bashar Assad in power.
2. Washington endorses Russia’s massive military intervention in Syria, although as recently as last month Obama condemned it as doomed to failure.
3. The US now stands behind Iran – not just on the Syrian question – but also on the exitence of an Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah alliance, based on a solid land bridge from Iran and the Gulf up to the Mediterranean coast under Russian military and political protection and influence.
Even more surprising were the sentiments heard this week in Jerusalem.
Our military and intelligence sources cite officials urging the government to accept the American policy turnaround. In some military circles, senior voices were heard commenting favorably on Assad’s new prospects of survival in power, or advising Israel to jump aboard the evolving setup rather than obstructing it.
Those same “experts” long claimed that Assad’s days were numbered. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.
Israel was forced to yield on the Iranian nuclear program, but its acceptance of the permanence of Assad and the indefinite presence in Syria of his sponsors, Iran and Hizballah, will come at a high price for Israel in the next conflict.