US, Russia In Talks Over ‘Safe Zone’ In Syria – OpEd

None can predict as to how long the dirty war in Syria sponsored by foreign powers led by the USA and Russia will continue and how many more thousands of Syrians will be slaughtered.

The Americans, focusing on advantages, may not be interested in ending the war. Yet, apparently, there are talks going on behind the scenes over the increased fighting in Syria by the USA and British Special Ops troops and the militant proxies they have been using to control as much of the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border as possible.

Russia and the USA have been engaged in a series of confidential meetings to establish a ‘safe zone’ in Syria. Russian and US officials have met repeatedly in recent weeks, according to an anonymous source. The talks reportedly included a meeting between officials in Jordan in late May.

Last week, the Americans and Russians met with the Jordanians to discuss these safe zones. The source said: “The meeting in Jordan was one part where the United States and Russia, Israel and Jordan can work together to have a de-escalation zone in the south of Syria.”

Six rounds of UN-backed negotiations in Geneva have so far failed to bring about a political solution to the Syrian conflict. The war, now in its seventh year, has claimed 400,000 lives and created 5 million refugees.

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed on the establishment of ‘de-escalation zones’ throughout Syria in rival talks hosted by Russian in the Kazakh capital Astana in May. The establishment of the zones is an effort to halt hostilities between armed opposition groups and the government of Bashar Al-Assad.
Russia’s intervention in the Syrian war since September 2015 has been marred by allegations its airstrikes targeted civilian infrastructure, including mosques, schools, and air convoys.

An agreement to set up the safe zones in Syria came into effect more than a month ago, at midnight May 6. Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the guarantors of the initiative, who authorized the memo creating the safe zones during Syria talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana on May 4, have to complete the final geographic division of the four areas within a month.

According to the memorandum, the preparation of the maps of the de-escalation areas and security zones should have been completed by June 4, 2017. By the same date, the Guarantors were to separate the armed opposition groups from the terrorist groups the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.

The zones are located in the Idlib Governorate and parts of neighboring Latakia, Aleppo and Hama provinces; in the northern part of Homs province; in the Damascus neighborhood of Eastern Ghouta, and in parts of southern Deraa and Quneitra provinces bordering Jordan.

Meanwhile, by May 22, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the guarantors of the Syrian ceasefire, were to have completed the final geographic division of the four safe zones in Syria, also referred to as “de-escalation zones”. Sputnik has delved into the details of the suggested plan and its difference from the similar initiatives of the USA and Turkey.

The plan suggests that within the lines of the de-escalation areas hostilities between the conflicting parties, the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition groups will join the ceasefire regime with the use of any kinds of weapons, including aerial assets, should be ceased.

Checkpoints and observation posts are to be positioned along the de-escalation lines within the safe zones, according to the document. They will provide free movement of unarmed civilians and humanitarian access to the areas, under guarantor states’ control. Russian delegation head at Astana talks and Special Presidential Representative for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev said that Russia was ready to send its observers to the safe zones in Syria and did not rule out other countries taking part in monitoring de-escalation. Chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said that the work of checkpoints and observation posts will be under control of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Under mutual agreement of the three countries, they can draw in units of other countries.

The memorandum stated that the creation of the de-escalation areas and security zones is a temporary measure, the duration of which will initially be 6 months and will be automatically extended on the basis of consensus of the Guarantors.

The steps outlined in the Astana agreement for the “de-escalation zones” in Syria are not clear, but it is clearly spelled out that the attacks on ISIS and al-Nusra will continue. But al-Nusra is not waiting for any clarification, having already announced it would be confiscating the ammo depots of the opposition groups in Idlib and arresting their leaders to preempt them going over to the SAA. This might start up new infighting among the anti-Damascus groups, as al-Nusra has said it will attack any group that supports the ceasefire. Missing so far is how they plan to deal with the membership roulette game the “jihadis” and officially designated terrorists have been playing by flowing their members back and forth as needed to suit their combat and political tactical needs.

Thus by May 22, the working group of the representatives of the guarantor states was to define the areas within the above safe zones that are still under control of “terrorists” and exclude them from the ceasefire agreement. So far, it is only known for certain that Eastern Ghouta municipality of Qaboun, in the neighborhood of Damascus, which is still controlled by al-Nusra and from where they are shelling on the dwelling areas of Damascus, will be excluded from this safe zone.

While Israel is making efforts to further complicate the crisis in Syria, both the USA and Europe now think along Moscow way that Assad must stay for the “stabilization” of Syria as they are under the impression that once Assad is killed or driven out of Syria, Syria would, like Afghanistan, become totally disoriented, although Syria is already destabilized with many war fronts on the inside.

The US Coalition does not want the Syrian people to have anti-terrorism partners unless it approves them, and they are using the Russians to get this deal done, similar to their wanting Assad out. The USA wants the situation to eventually assure a weak and more easily destabilized Syria even after any kind of a “settlement” which it can manipulate further. One of the reasons for this development for talks, therefore, is only to block the Damascus-Baghdad highway from being the critical link for the Syrian coalition for logistical support from both Iran and Iraq Including blocking military hardware and troops – in effect, imposing a situation that would benefit the foreign forces, as the USA has not won the war even after five long years.

Sources in Syria say that many are wary of what the Americans and Russians might do, as one can assume that Moscow does presumably not want to be involved permanently at the current level of combat for years and years. The US Coalition obviously does not want to submit Assad’s future to the Syrian people, as he would win devastatingly, which would show that he ruled his own people only by military oppression.

Peace after ceasefire will by no means be an easy feat to accomplish, as there are many enemies of peace still on the battlefield and in the capitals of the world. But at this stage of the game, maintaining momentum toward peace has to be visible to increase the hope and interest in a political settlement

It could be argued, however, that the USA does not want the crisis in Syria to end because that could lead to a Mideast peace as well.

The USA cannot win war in Syria, but it can hope to win the talks. When the peace talks began the US Coalition could string the process along, looking for openings to win in the talks what they could not on the battlefield — and that is exactly what is rolling out here.

The USA and Europe slapped sanctions on Iran in order to weaken that country. The Western claims of Iran having a secret nuclear weapons program were a complete hoax, done partially to justify the Iranian sanctions to cripple its economy, and also for the deployment of a US anti-missile screen in Eastern Europe.

What is at stake is that countries like the USA and Israel, who have aggressive secret intentions and a mindset that paints their selected targets as aggressors, are cloaking their motives in the often-used robe of “defensive measures” and “counter terror” measures. Both want to make Arab world destabilized even while looting their resources in arms deals.

Syria’s President Bashar Assad has recently said that he believes that the internationally agreed de-escalation zones are a real opportunity to finally achieve peace in his war-torn country, saying, all previous initiatives have failed due to some states hindering peace by pursuing own political goals. The “foremost” aim of the de-escalation or safe zones is to protect peaceful civilians, but Assad said they also provide armed militants with an opening “to enter into a truce with the government.”

“This is a chance for a person with weapons in hand to pause to think. In other words, if they lay down arms, amnesty would follow,” the Syrian president said.

The agreement between Moscow, Tehran and Ankara presumes the cessation of airstrikes in Syria. However the US State Department has said the US military won’t join this moratorium. Israel seems to have a similar position on the issue. Recently the Israeli authorities informed Moscow that Israel will strike on Syrian territory “in case of necessity.” The Saudi authorities however have fully supported the document signed in Astana. They probably did not like Trump’s idea to pay for the safe zones in Syria and rushed to support the alternative project.

Back in January, US President Donald Trump promised to “do safe zones in Syria” for refugees fleeing violence in the war-torn country. He was then expected to sign a draft order to the Pentagon and the State Department to produce a plan to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region in which Syrian nationals displaced from their homeland can await firm settlement, such as repatriation or potential third-country resettlement. On the campaign trail, Trump gave no details as to how he might go about creating such havens, except to say that he would ask Gulf states to help pay. In February, the US leader reiterated that the Gulf States should pay for these safe zones. “We do owe $20 trillion. Okay. So we’re going to have the Gulf States pay for those safe zones. They’ve got nothing, but money,” he then said.

The Turkish government had long pressed Obama, without success, for the creation of a no-fly zone in Syria on its border with Turkey. US military officials had long warned that the creation of no-fly zones inside Syria would require a large number of additional resources beyond the fight against Islamic State (Daesh).

It should be noted however that the idea of the safe zones in Syria is not new. It was earlier voiced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However Ankara’s major tasks initially were not the settlement of the Syrian conflict, but the setup of control over the border territories and control the Kurds. With this very purpose it launched its Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016, planning to squeeze Kurdish units out of northern Syrian territories. This task however has been fulfilled only partially.

Hence the main difference of the document signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in Astana is that it is aimed at a complex settlement of the situation in Syria. Washington’s effort was aimed at tacking only one problem — the refugee influx into Europe and the USA. The USA is now studying the terms of the memorandum. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has recently questioned the Russian-sponsored plan saying that it “poses many unanswered questions, including whether it would be effective.” “The devil is always in the details, right? So we have to look at the details, see if we can work them out, see if we think they’re going to be effective,” the Pentagon head told journalists.

With a fluid situation in Arab world after Qatar was ousted by Saudi Led Arab world blaming it on behalf of USA for “sponsoring terrorism”, there is no possibility Syria would be safe in the near future.

Aiming at a dangerous Sunni-Shiite war in the long run that would further slash Islamic populations and faith, President Donald Trump, declared that the action taken by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain was “hard but necessary.” He denounced Qatar for having been a “funder of terrorism at a very high level”. Trump’s remarks make clear that following Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month, during which he sought to form a Sunni bloc to confront Iran, Riyadh felt emboldened to strengthen its regional position under the pretext of combating terrorism.

Qatar has long attempted to maintain a somewhat more independent foreign policy, including through economic ties and joint exploration of energy resources with Iran and through its support for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. This stance has infuriated Riyadh. Until Riyadh broke diplomatic ties, Qatar was also part of the coalition conducting the brutal war in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of civilians over the past two years.

In Syria, the USA has over recent weeks with air strikes effectively begun to partition the country. The USA has justified these attacks on the grounds that the pro-government forces have allegedly violated a “deconfliction zone” proclaimed unilaterally by Washington in Syria’s south near the borders with Jordan and Iraq.


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Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is a columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics. He is an expert on Mideast affairs, as well as a chronicler of foreign occupations and freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.). Dr. Ruff is a specialist on state terrorism, the Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA), commentator on world affairs and sport fixings, and a former university teacher. He is the author of various eBooks/books and editor for INTERNATIONAL OPINION and editor for FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES; Palestine Times.

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