Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gray Lady's Anne Barnard Interviews Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad

Anne Barnard has a decent story this morning built around her Tuesday interview in Damascus with Syria's deputy foreign minister, Fayssal Mekdad. It's worth checking out. Some of the highlights:
  • Geneva II is unlikely to happen anytime soon. So the Syrian government is talking about the possibility of staging its own peace talks with "religious and community leaders 'who have influence on the ground' with fighters."
"But Mr. Mekdad suggested the government doubted the usefulness of talking to leaders of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the exile group that the West and its Arab allies have tried to set up as the government’s opposition counterpart and the civilian leadership of the loose-knit rebel Free Syrian Army. Excluding that group would be a nonstarter for the United States and its allies.
"But Mr. Mekdad and prominent government supporters in Damascus said the coalition was increasingly irrelevant, not only lacking control over its own forces, but over foreign jihadist groups increasingly prominent on the battlefield — a view widely shared by Syrians who oppose the government."
  • Following Syria's agreement to get rid of its chemical weapons, "Mr. Mekdad said the natural next step was an international push for Israel to relinquish its arsenal of nuclear weapons, which the neighboring state has never formally acknowledged."
  • The Syrian deputy foreign minister said that the government was "100 percent sure" that the rebels were behind the August 21 Ghouta chemical weapon attack.
  • Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is consolidating its position in northern Syria and hardening its drive for a caliphate by attacking other rebel groups:
"A Syrian journalist said recent fighting between armed groups in the rebel-held north changed the calculations of Syrian and Western leaders regarding the proposed talks in Geneva.

"The journalist, who supports the government but requested anonymity to go beyond official statements, said he believed the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was trying to seize ground from other rebel groups. 
"'I don’t think Geneva is really close to us, but what is close to us is a huge problem,' he said. 'If we don’t fight it in next two, three, four weeks, this means that inside of the Middle East, near Europe’s border, there is a state auto-financed and controlled by terrorists.'
"He said he could even envision a situation in which an international coalition was formed to fight alongside the Syrian Army against the jihadists, a prospect that seemed unlikely for now as the West continues to insist Mr. Assad leave power.
"Mr. Mekdad dismissed that notion and said the government sought a “peace coalition” to end the financing of armed opposition groups by America’s allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, adding that aid to the Syrian government from its allies Russia and Iran was permissible within relations between sovereign states."
I think that there's a greater chance that the West will use the existence of an Al Qaeda enclave in northern Syria as an excuse to launch strikes against the Syrian government rather than cooperate with it. It's part of pattern that we've come to expect from the United States and its allies: foment unrest and then use that unrest as an excuse to exercise military force.

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