Wednesday, May 13, 2015

U.S. Shows its Hand: Key to P5+1 Deal is Assad's Head

Kerry traveled to Russia yesterday to meet with Lavrov and Putin. Michael Gordon files the story, "Kerry Arrives in Russia for Talks With Vladimir Putin on Cooperation," which emphasizes that the talks dealt with Syria. Niqnaq posts a bit of speculation from El-Murid that the U.S. is attempting to cut a deal with Russia at Assad's expense. This makes a great deal of sense to me. Kerry's powwow with Lavrov comes just before he returns to D.C. to toast the sheikhs of the GCC. What better palliative to deliver to Wahhabi billionaires paranoid about the rise of Iranian power in the Middle East than the promise that Putin was cutting Syria loose? Short of a message from Obama that the U.S. is pulling out of the P5+1 negotiations, it is the sweetest music to the sheikhs ears. Syria under new pro-GCC/Western leadership would be devastating to Iran and even more so to Lebanon's Hezbollah; it might definitely be enough to buy the sheikhs' acquiescence in an Obama deal with Iran on its nuclear program

The Kremlin of course can be ruthlessly calculating as befits a great state power. But in this case, selling Assad down the river and shattering the Shiite crescent, would require a trade-off that the U.S. is unwilling to make; it would require the U.S. and EU to drop Russian sanctions and abandon their puppet government in Kiev.

That's not going to happen. So Kerry will return to Washington empty handed, and the spurious chlorine gas stories will multiple. No doubt the keening over Russian incursions into Ukraine will rise as well.

One thing that is helpful about Kerry's trip to Sochi is that it clarifies that the Obama administration believes Syria to be the key to unlocking the opposition to the P5+1 deal with Iran. (Israel would be mollified because it would be a huge body blow to Hezbollah.) Assad will have some sleepless nights from now until the end of June when a final deal with Iran on its nuclear program will either be completed or collapse.

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