Thursday, January 2, 2014

"Russia and US in Middle East: Summing Up 2013 Events" Nikolai Bobkin

Nikolai BOBKIN | 31.12.2013 | 00:00

Summing up the main political events which have taken place in 2013 it could be said that Russia expanded its agenda to the global level trying to stabilize the situation and get off the ground what has been stymied for many years. The Arab world has said the Russia’s regional clout is growing while the US reputation is falling down. Americans don’t argue. A recent Pew Research Center conducted in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations showed that full 70% of Americans believe the United States is less respected than in the past. The public also disapproves of Obama’s handling of Syria, Iran, China and Afghanistan by wide margins...
The situation in Syria has drastically turned for the better. By the end of this summer it looked like a US strike against Syria was inevitable, now many politicians consent that Bashar Assad’s remaining in power is the best scenario for Washington. The Russian initiative on elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons was a starting point for changing the West’s attitude.Those days US State Secretary John Kerry sounded belligerent enough saying to the whole world that strikes on Syria could be avoided, if President Bashar al-Assad handed over his stockpile of chemical weapons, «Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it). But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done».Back then Russia Foreign Chief Sergey Lavrov and his American counterpart discussed the issue in Geneva during almost two days. Finally the Russian side managed to convince Americans and defended its stance. It gave a reason to say that in Geneva Russian diplomacy carried the day preventing a new Middle East war with the US involvement and allowing President Obama to find a way out of a difficult situation he found himself in while calling on allies to join him in the operation against Syria. The accords with Russia saved the administration from defeat in Congress where it lacked support for the action. President Obama expressed gratitude saying he welcomed Putin's involvement as helpful and said any deal on Syria must include a verifiable way to ensure that it gives up all its chemical weapons capacity, «I think there's a way for Mr. Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role in that», Obama said. «And so I welcome him being involved. I welcome him saying, «I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime, to deal with these chemical weapons». «This is not the Cold War, this is not a contest between the United States and Russia», Obama told ABC's This Week in an interview broadcast in mid-September. 
Russia is intent to further resist the attempts of regime change in Syria; this mission is on the 2014 foreign policy priority list. There is no talking about confrontation, the situation is complicated enough for all parties involved. Nevertheless the differences between Moscow and Washington on a range of issues have got narrowed down. The success of joint efforts while tackling the issue of Iran’s nuclear program is a pertinent example. 
The Iranian issue, which to some extent paled amidst the heat of the Syrian crisis, came to the fore again in September when the US and Iran’s presidents exchanged letters as the first step to normalization. Sometime later the US and Iran’s foreign chiefs met eye to eye at the session of UN General Assembly, the results of the meeting were assessed as constructive by the both sides. Then presidents Obama and Rouhani tried to give the process a new lease on life in a 15-minute conversation on the phone after 34 years of silence. The event immediately became a sensation. It was approved by leaders of many states but became a bone of contention between the White House and his main Middle East allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia. Since a long time Russia warned the US not to drive Tehran into the corner by imposing new sanctions. No doubt Russian diplomats tried to influence Iran within the framework of the P5+1 and bilateral contacts to avoid further worsening of relations between Tehran and Washington. After all, there was a high probability of a war sparked between the US and Iran at the start of the year and many scared the world saying it was nearing the third world war. Few expected Iran and the «big six» find an arrangement concerning the nuclear issue, something the world had waited for during ten years. The proposals put forward by Putin two years ago became the basis for finding a common language. The process got a new impetus to make the US and Europeans join the dialogue as President Rouhani came to power. The importance of the reached consensus is hard to overestimate, the agreement is rightfully considered to be a historic event. Was it a long time ago the suppositions that the US and Iranian diplomats could work together on a draft agreement evoked nothing else but skepticism? Russia was pragmatic enough to lose no time coming in support of Iran. In the given case Washington was also set on reaching progress. The US plan includes two phases. US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that the first phase of the deal being offered to Iran would involve six months of halting progress on Iran’s nuclear program and beginning to roll it back, while the U.S. would offer«limited, temporary and reversible economic relief» that leaves the «architecture of sanctions wholly in place». Americans believe the six months pause will let finish the preparatory work to reach a comprehensive long-term agreement and do away with the concern voiced by international community. In future many things will depend on Iran with the sanctions remaining the main argument in the hands of the White House. Washington insists the use of force is still on the table as the way to tackle the problem of Iran’s nuclear dossier (though the possibility of conflict has greatly diminished as a result ofGeneva talks). At that, the United States and Iran are still rivals. The Obama’s administration turned a deaf ear to the recommendations of Russia, the United Nations and the Arab League who say Iran should be a party to the Geneva-2 conference on Syria. In this case Washington sides with Israel and Saudi Arabia which oppose the full-fledged participation of Iran in the process of peaceful management. In its turn Tehran remains the only country openly opposing the agreement between the United States and Afghanistan. According to Iranian leadership, the long-term military presence of the US and NATO in the neighboring country may adversely affect the situation in the region as a whole. It should be noted that these apprehensions have certain substantiation to be taken into consideration. 
The Russia’s stance on Afghanistan. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the reports that President Putin had called on Afghanistan to sign an agreement with the United States. Moscow insists the United Nations Security Council be submitted a report on the results of the mission before pulling the forces out, because it was the UN who sanctioned the military operation in Afghanistan. Now the United States decided to get around any international mandate in favor of a bilateral accord with Kabul. Iran wants the United States to fully withdraw from Afghanistan. We believe the Iran’s approach is worth of taking into account because there are many doubts the US will be able to guarantee security in Afghanistan after the agreement comes into force. According to Russia’s view, if Washington provides no guarantees, then the US presence loses any purpose. Especially once Kabul strives to move away from one-sided orientation on Washington and Brussels. At the end of outgoing year Afghanistan approached Russia with a request to make a contribution in providing security and take part in infrastructure projects. Afghanistan needs Russia’s assistance in formation of national police force and hopes to cooperate within the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization fighting terrorism and extremism, as well as illegal drugs trade. During the 12 years the US maintained its presence in the country the drugs production there grew by 44 times. The cooperation in question does not include Russia’s military presence. President Putin summed up the results of the year in a press-conference. As to him, Russia’s contribution into the management of acute log-lasting problems related to Syria and the Iranian nuclear program. But Russia does not strive for the role of the only leader. Putin believes sometimes Russia has come up with the proposals becoming the basis for the decisions, some things have been proposed by Americans, Chinese and Europeans. It is all the result of joint efforts and it cannot be viewed otherwise.



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