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Small Steps Seen Toward Syria Peace Talks

  • Heather Murdock

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov (R) and Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, arrive to attend a news conference after their meeting on the Syrian conflict, in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 11, 2015.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov (R) and Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, arrive to attend a news conference after their meeting on the Syrian conflict, in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 11, 2015.

Russian and Saudi Arabian diplomats met Tuesday in Moscow amid a flurry of international diplomacy seen as small steps toward Syria peace talks following the Iran nuclear deal, according to Gulf State Analytics’ Dubai-based geopolitical analyst, Theodore Karasik.

“The Iran deal has created a new political paradigm,” he said. “Where all of the states of the region are trying to fix the problems in Syria through political compromise.”

After the talks in Moscow, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia supports a political solution in Syria that includes the Syrian government and military, but not the president, Bashar al-Assad, who is allied with Russia and Iran.

“It is a necessity to preserve the government and military institutions to maintain order in Syria post-Assad,” said al-Jubeir.

Western countries that once harshly opposed the Assad government increasingly agree, said Marc Pierini, a former European Union Ambassador to Syria and Carnegie Europe scholar.

“I think what the Western world is aiming to preserve parts of the Syrian regime and parts of the Syrian army,” he said, “because we have learned from Iraq, for example, and other places that you cannot replace the whole state that easily.”

Dismantling the Syrian government and handing the responsibility of governing to rebel groups, many of which follow varying degrees of extremist ideologies, would not end the crisis, he added.

But as some countries that support the Syrian opposition soften their stance against the Assad government, the Iran nuclear deal may also bring Iran and Russia, Assad’s biggest supporters, closer to the center. And the Russia-Saudi Arabia meeting is one of many recent diplomatic moves in recent weeks that appear to be aimed at setting the stage for Syria peace talks, according Karasik.

The nearly globally-shared desire to destroy Islamic State has also increased the urgency of ending the war, he said. The Islamic State controls vast territories of Iraq and Syria, and is thriving in the chaos of Syria’s civil war.

But a solution is not likely to come soon, warned Pierini. Sorting out differences internationally will take a long time after more than four years of war killing more than 200,000 people and displacing half the country’s population. Many key players, he added, remain firm in their stances on mutual exclusive positions.

“The Turkish president has taken a very firm position that the only way to resolve the Syrian crisis is to take out President Assad,” he said. “That is not the view of the U.S. and Europeans.”

Assad also has not indicated any plans to step down, he added.

Turkey recently joined the alliance of countries actively fighting Islamic State in Syria, a group of that includes many adversaries in the Syrian war.

For example, after Tuesday’s talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said although Russian and Saudi Arabia have taken opposite sides in the Syrian war, both countries have agreed to strengthen cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State.

Lavrov, however, was more cautious when discussing Syria, indicating that current diplomatic efforts are in very early stages.

"We agreed to continue thinking about steps that should be taken,” he said, “to create a suitable ambiance to resume dialogue between the Syrian government and all other Syrian groups.”

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