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MOSCOW, September 21. /TASS/. Washington and Moscow are about to start the search for a joint approach to settling the Syrian crisis and the struggle against the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State, thereby creating a precedent for tighter interaction to advance common interests in the Middle East, the director of the Institute for US and Canada Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Sergey Rogov, has told TASS in an interview.
Over the past two weeks US Secretary of State John Kerry has had three telephone conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. And last Saturday Kerry asked Russia and Iran to use their influence on Syria’s President Bashar Assad to persuade him to enter into political negotiations for a settlement of the conflict in his country. Kerry said that although the United States remained adamant Assad should step down, at the same time it was not expecting the resignation should happen overnight.
Kerry was speaking the next day after US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter and Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu spent nearly an hour discussing the situation in Syria by telephone.
"It looks like despite the divergence of views within the US Administration President Barack Obama supports Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who tend to cooperate with Russia in the Syrian settlement and the struggle against the terrorist Islamic State. This explains the frequent contacts Kerry and Lavrov had of late, as well as Carter’s decision to break the ‘vow of silence’ which the Pentagon chief has observed since his appointment and to talk to Shoigu at last," Rogov said.
"I believe that official statements by both sides to the effect Carter and Shoigu stated the similarity of their countries’ stances on Syria were pretty close to the reality. Alongside the agreement over the Iranian nuclear program there is emerging another precedent of tighter interaction by Moscow and Washington in advancing their common interests in the Middle East and in fighting against the common threat - the Islamic State."
Rogov believes that the latest reports US and Russian secret services had contacts regarding joint steps that might be taken to fight against the Islamic State were mostly confined to exchanges of information about likely attacks against terrorist bases, their command centres, armed groups and munitions depots.
"Another aspect of the latest contacts between the two countries’ secret services is the prevention of incidents that may result in casualties among advisers and military specialists as a result of ‘friendly’ fire. It is not accidental the Pentagon has started using a new term - deconflictization - in relation to possible actions by the United States and Russia in Syria. This term implies both sides will be informing each other about their current operations and plans for future steps in that country. But it is very unlikely such delicate matters will be ever discussed in public," Rogov remarked.
"In a sense the Islamic State terrorists are a unique enemy for Washington and Moscow. It is hard to imagine a different situation where Russian and US interests would be practically the same. So the absence of any cooperation by Russia and the United States on that score could not but raise many eyebrows," he said.
At the same time Rogov used the adjective "adamant" to describe Washington’s stubborn insistence Syria’s President Bashar Assad should be promptly removed from power. "In the meantime, Syria’s government troops remain the main obstacle to IS militants. The so-called moderate Syrian opposition has demonstrated its weakness and inability to resist Islamic terrorists. The United States’ failure to train combat-ready troops for the Syrian opposition has ended in failure, although a hefty $500,000 million has been spent on that program," Rogov recalled.
In the current situation in Washington, he said, not only the Republicans, but many members of the Democratic Party are reluctant to vote for a resolution that would empower the president to use US troops against the Islamic State. "The US Congress surely does not want to see a rerun of 2003, when the corresponding resolution on Iraq was used by the George W. Bush’s Administration for the invasion of Iraq and its occupation. Obama himself does not look very enthusiastic about the idea the US might launch a ground operation in Syria," he recalls.
"In this context Russia’s readiness to step up military assistance to Syria has drawn a mixed response from the United States. On the one hand, Washington fears that Russia may gain a much firmer foothold in the Middle East against the backdrop of ineffective US policies. On the other hand, the arrangement that resulted in the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons is about to be replicated again. The Obama Administration then preferred to cooperate with Russia in eliminating these arsenals," Rogov pointed out.
"Does that mean that the United States is withdrawing its demand for Assad’s resignation? Very unlikely. But Washington looks prepared not to push ahead with this demand for the time being. At the same time Russian officials have been hinting that support for the Syrian government at the moment does not imply Assad will certainly stay in office in the foreseeable future. Various options are possible: Assad may be replaced by some of his associates, if the issue of forming an interim government incorporating all of the Islamic State’s opponents is put on the agenda. But one should not be in a hurry to jump at such hasty conclusions for now," Rogov warned.
"The latest shifts in Washington’s and Moscow’s policies regarding Syria indicate that Russian-US relations may get more balanced in defiance of the sanctions, and that some sort of balance of cooperation and rivalry may be established. Although at the current phase confrontational attitudes prevail, Russian-US cooperation over Syria may play a positive role, preventing a further worsening of another Cold War," Rogov believes.
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