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US reviews its Syrian policy vector - experts

February 05, 2014, 17:45 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, February 5. /ITAR-TASS/. Three events occurred earlier this week that may prove to be closely interrelated. On Tuesday, US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul announced his resignation. On Wednesday, as AP reported, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford notified his friends and colleagues of plans to retire. At the same time US Secretary of State John Kerry, while meeting with Congress following the Munich Security Conference, described the Syrian negotiations as failed and insisted on a dramatic overhaul of the US policy in the region, including the start of large-scale weapon and military equipment supplies to the Syrian opposition.

Michael McFaul excused his hasty departure with personal reasons - he was homesick and missing his family. Yet notably, summing up his two years at the diplomatic mission in Moscow in an interview to the Kommersant daily, he called yet-to-be-achieved Syrian peace settlement as his main failure. Russia and the US, he believes, failed to demonstrate leadership on the Syrian issue three years ago - not three weeks or three months ago - and now they are those who bear special responsibility. Therefore, he described the situation as a sheer diplomatic failure.

With this statement McFaul indirectly admitted his disagreement with Washington’s official position.

Robert Ford, working from Washington, remained silent about his reasons. Like McFaul’s, Ford’s retirement came early: he assumed office in January 2011, while the usual term of office for a US ambassador is four years.

“It has been exactly a year since John Kerry took office as the US Secretary of State. I think he had time to get the understanding of the situation and decided to appoint people who share his views as ambassadors to Russia and Syria,” former First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anatoly Adamishin, told Itar-Tass.

“I also left the post of the Russian Ambassador to Italy early, but the reason was my promotion to a higher position at the Foreign Ministry. Obviously, Michael McFaul has not been promoted and goes back to his research work. US Department of State said nothing about Robert Ford’s new appointment either. Consequently, the two ambassadors do not live up to John Kerry’s expectations. He needs more determined people in such crucial spots as Moscow and Damascus,” he believes.

Deputy Director of the Institute for the US and Canada Studies (at the Russian Academy of Sciences) Pavel Zolotarev believes McFaul is unprofessional. “We had ordinary contacts with him when he started working in the Obama Administration in 2011, and he has quite good knowledge of Russia. But as an ambassador he sometimes made just ill-considered statements,” the expert said.

Amid the reshuffle Kerry told Congress that increasing influence of Islamist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Syria posed a threat to US security. The Syrian government was dragging heels over eliminating chemical weapons, while Russia continued weapon supplies uninterrupted, so the US would have to urgently overhaul its strategy, Senator Lindsey Graham quotes Kerry as saying. Kerry was also outspoken about his belief that the US should abandon the non-interference policy and create a coalition to oppose Al-Qaeda.

“Resignation of the US ambassador to Syria indicates the US wrong assessment of the Syrian opposition. Providing support for the forces opposing the incumbent president, Bashar Assad, Washington assists extremist Islamist organizations linked with Al-Qaeda,” Zolotarev believes.

“War-thirsty radical Islamists from all over the world were quick to rush to Syria where the US assists the opposition. It created a terrorist threat not only for the US, but also for Europe and Russia, as former militants from the North Caucasus criminal groups headed for Syria as well,” the expert believes.

According to US intelligence services, Syrian armed opposition groups comprise between 75,000 and 110,000 people. No less than 26,000 of them are members of radical organizations. Some of them set up a network of training camps preparing militants from 50 countries.

Retired Major-General Zolotarev described the US intention to arm Syria’s moderate opposition, which allegedly resists Al-Qaeda, as a paradox: “Who would draw a line between moderate and radical Islamist opposition? These forces may be acting together.”

“Assisting the cause of Syrian settlement and arming one of the conflict’s sides at the same time is nonsense. It is breach of international law and a blatant intrusion into the country’s internal affairs,” the expert said.


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