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Inside Story Americas

The US strategy for Syria

As US and Russia plan to hold peace talks with the government and SNC, we discuss White House foreign policy on Syria.

Last Modified: 02 Jun 2013 06:28
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Plans by the United States and Russia to hold peace talks for Syria are being thrown into doubt as the opposition vows not to attend.

It has been more than two years since the Syrian conflict erupted leaving tens of thousands dead and millions more displaced.

The two countries are pushing for talks between Syria’s government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in Geneva.   

We would like to see the international community, including the UN, taking a clear stance on the infringement on sovereignty, this foreign intervention by Hezbollah, by the Iranians, the Iraqis, by others in the domestic affairs of a country.

Najib Ghadbian, Syrian opposition representative to the US

President Bashar al-Assad says his government will “in principle” attend the talks. But the SNC says it will not go to Geneva as long as Shia Lebanese group Hezbollah continues fighting in Qusayr.

Hezbollah openly supports the Syrian army. The government and Hezbollah forces are fighting to win back control of Qusayr from the opposition.

Some Syrians say the SNC is out of touch with events on the ground, as it has struggled to present a united front. The group has pledged to broaden its membership, it has postponed its election of a new leader to June, and has also postponed the formation of an interim rebel government

The UN says more than 80,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict.

So far, the US strategy has been to "keep all options on the table" to end the crisis there. But the US has yet to formulate a coherent plan to deal with a civil war that is rapidly evolving into a regional conflict.

However, that did not stop it from rebuking Russia for planning to arm al-Assad's forces, saying it could jeopardise international efforts for a peace conference on Syria.

Secretary of State Kerry, speaking after talks with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle, said on Friday that Russia's plans to deliver S-300 missiles to Syria were "not helpful" while trying to organise a peace conference to end the conflict. The missile shipment also posed a threat to Israel's security, he added.

Despite their differences, the meeting in June aims to end the 26-month old conflict that threatens to engulf more countries in the Middle East.

Washington is hoping the conference - known as 'Geneva 2' after a first conference last year in the Swiss city - will lead to a transitional government in Syria. Kerry says he believes opposition will attend the talks.

So, what exactly is the US strategy for Syria?

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Nancy Soderberg, a former US ambassador to the United Nations; Flynt Leverett, a professor of international relations at Penn State Universitynd co-author of the books Going to Tehran and Inheriting Syria; and Najib Ghadbian, a Syrian opposition representative to the US.

"A good outcome [for the US] would basically amount to the administration having to retreat from some very foolish positions that it took very early on .... From the get go, US support for the Syrian opposition was about two things: one was to use the opposition to bring down the Assad government, to in their calculations damage Iran's regional position; and secondly it was about co-opting the Arab awakening, to show that after the loss of pro-Western regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, a near-miss in Bahrain, that it wasn't just authoritarian regimes that subordinated their foreign policies to the United States that were at risk from the Arab awakening - you could also bring down a regime that had a clear commitment to foreign policy and independence. Well, that project for using the opposition for those purposes has failed."

- Flynt Leverett, Penn State University

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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