Friday, September 13, 2013

Syria: Let's Make Sure Our Negotiations Are Bilateral

Russian President Vladimir Putin must have hired the biggest, most expensive public relations counsel in the world to help him with his unprecedented campaign on Syria.  And, his predictable tactics are working, unfortunately.

His Opinion piece in the New York Times takes your breath away for its chutzpah, but it is bold, even over the top.  God's name is invoked as establishing the equality of all human beings, and the Pope is acknowledged among the world's major political and religious leaders. Will wonders ever cease?

We criticized the Administration's first responses to Russia's overtures for talking over the heads of the Russians to the Syrians.  Why?  Because, now it has opened the door to President Assad making demands on our conduct before a deal is made on chemical weapons.  Suddenly, what should have been a bilateral negotiation between Russia and the U.S. is now a trilateral negotiation.  This can't work.

The door is still open to keep this process on track. President Putin's own words point the way. 

"My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this."  

So, he has understood that we are acknowledging his, and Russia's importance, on the world superpower stage. The disdain he has shown for President Obama has been overcome, and things are improving.  So, let's make sure it stays on track.

President Obama needs to hold President Putin to his words and make Russia responsible for keeping their Syrian client in line.  We need to tell President Putin what we we can accept as an outcome of this process--stability for the Russian client, no armed conflict or regime change, a rapid, internationally verifiable disarming of the chemical arsenal and plans for humanitarian aid--and make Russia responsible for bringing Syria along. Like Mr. Putin told us to work with his foreign minister, we need to tell him to have his foreign minister work with Secretary of State Kerry.

We should ask the U.N. Secretary-General to undertake the program of planning, implementing and monitoring the dismantling of the chemical arsenal through the appropriate mechanisms, including the Security Council.  He will know how best to achieve this goal, and let him work with the Permanent Members.  

We also need to lose our habit of blowing off steam and expressing frustration in the press, or speaking through mouthpieces like Susan Rice.  This initiative started at the highest level, and this is where it has to be seen through to the end.  

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