U.S., Russia must find common ground to bring an end to Syria’s civil war
The United States and Russia must try to find common ground to help bring an end to the civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 220,000 people and forced a massive number of people to flee as refugees.
On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first talks in about two years. On the Syrian issue, Obama expressed his view to call for President Bashar Assad to step down, stressing that stability in Syria would be impossible as long as the Assad administration stays in power.
Putin took a different tack and clearly expressed support for the Assad administration, describing it as a “bulwark” against extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has expanded its control over parts of Syria and Iraq.
The leaders of the United States and Russia have been at loggerheads over issues including the situation in Ukraine, but they did jointly recognize the importance of quickly wiping out ISIL. However, they remain far apart in their views on whether the Assad administration should be allowed any involvement in Syria’s future.
A chaotic civil war including the military forces under the control of the Assad administration and several antigovernment organizations continues for more than four years. The vacuum of power in parts of Syria has helped promote the growth of extremist groups, including ISIL. Assad’s army is at a disadvantage against its enemies, and the government now controls only about one-quarter of Syria, mainly in the west of that nation.
Dealing with the Syrian issue, from where the threat of terrorism is proliferating, is an urgent task.
Tricky diplomatic path
At a press conference after his talks with Obama, Putin criticized airstrikes conducted by nations such as the United States and France against ISIL targets to weaken that group, saying they were “illegal” because they had not been requested by Syria.
Russia has started airstrikes of its own to support the Assad administration. Moscow has set up an air base inside Syria and deployed fighter jets and tanks there. It has dispatched military advisers to Syria and will exchange strategic information with Iran and Iraq, which are close to the Assad government.
Russia is attempting to prop up the Assad government under the name of building an “antiterrorism coalition” that adds Syria and Iran to the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing.”
If the Russian military intervenes under the banner of trying to prolong the Assad government for as long as possible, while disregarding the numerous atrocities committed by the administration, the fighting in Syria could actually escalate. There are fears an accidental clash could occur with the United States and France.
Obama was quite right to strongly oppose this step by Moscow. It is obvious that the Assad administration lacks legitimacy.
The United States has been providing military training to moderate Syrian antigovernment groups as it seeks to topple the Assad government and defeat ISIL. However, these efforts have not produced tangible results. Obama’s strategy has reached a deadlock.
The United States also cannot resolve this problem just by demanding that Assad step down. In Europe, which is being directly affected by the flood of arriving refugees, there is an emerging opinion that negotiations with Assad also might be unavoidable.
Pressing ahead with diplomacy that curbs any increase in the strength of ISIL while also anticipating a transition to a new regime — this will be a difficult process, but unless the United States and Russia, the two major powers, act in concert, the situation in Syria will not improve.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 1, 2015)Speech