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USA and Russia agree to new peace plan for Syria

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At the outset, one point as a clarity should be mentioned straightaway here. The terror wars targeting energy rich Arab world launched by USA and its NATO, jointly or separately have not wound down as USA is seriously considering a permanent war to impose the prowess of its militarism on the world. USA and NATO only used Afghanistan and Pakistan with blessings form Saudi kingdom in order to legitimize its permanent war by extending, as per its plan, the terror wars into Arab world and control oil production and sale.  

Now Syria, where thousands of Muslims lost life, thousands have fled the nation to neighboring nations, is in turmoil for the last 5 long years, has become a safe sanctuary for all anti-Islamic nations and others to target Muslims and reduce Islamic populations in West Asia where most of populations are Muslims. For the first time in years, super powers USA and Russia are cooperating and even coordinating their terror operations as USA does not sincerely wish to end war in Syria and other Arab nations.

USA seeks to remove or replace Assad, a Shiite, who wants to continue to be the president without facing the Sunni people in polls, but Russia bats for the “troubled” man who now has regained some strength after Russian involvement.

Both USA and Russia keep killing Muslims while Turkey, an ally of USA by NATO, helps USA in attacking the minority Syrians.

While it is not yet clear what exactly Moscow has in its mind taking on the anti-Assad Muslims there, but USA cannot even think of a peace deal to end the bloodbath there. Even years of US-Israeli shuttle diplomacy no peace is in sight in Mideast as Palestinians are getting killed by Israeli military with US terror goods.

Recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a new cease-fire agreement that both sides hope will clear the road to peace for a troubled nation that’s been torn apart by a five-year civil war. Kerry and Lavrov met all day in Geneva to work on the deal, which at one point seemed unlikely. Later on Friday the Sept 09, both sides announced the pact during a news conference.

Thank you all for tremendous patience during the course of a very long day,” Kerry said at the start of his remarks. “Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering and resume movement toward a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria.”

The leaders said that step will be followed by a larger cease-fire, closer to one that was agreed to in February but not effectively implemented. It lasted a few weeks. Members of both governments and the news media were skeptical that an agreement could be reached Friday, especially after Lavrov said during a break that he was about ready to “call it a day.”

The deal agreed to by Kerry and Lavrov calls for a cease-fire between the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as well as his Russian and Iranian allies. The fighting is being interrupted, Kerry said, to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid — particularly in the heavily contested city of Aleppo.

As it turns out, Kerry and Lavrov were able to hammer out agreeable terms, which were then communicated to President Barack Obama. “I believe it is important for them to check with Washington,” Lavrov said during the approval process. “I apologize for the delay. We cannot help it.” Friday’s agreement is seen as one step in what both sides hope will be a series of advancements toward the end of the Syrian civil war, which is now in its sixth year.

The agreed-upon cease-fire is scheduled to begin at sunset on Sept. 12. If it holds for a week, the U.S. and Russian militaries would then begin steps to combine operations to eliminate obstacles to peace — including militant groups the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front. The plan also calls for a demilitarized zone and uncontested access for humanitarian aid. “If implemented, if followed, the plan has the ability to provide a turning point,” Kerry added. “The suffering we have witnessed in Syria over the course of five years now is really beyond inhumane. “The United States is going the extra mile here because we believe that Russia, and Lavrov, have the capability to press the Assad regime to stop this conflict and to come to the table and make peace.”

Earlier, the US President Barack Obama said he is not optimistic about the future success of a possible cease-fire in Syria despite ongoing talks between the United States and Russia. Obama, speaking Sunday at the G20 summit in China, said he does not think any new deal would last long enough for a political resolution in Syria. John Kerry, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the economic summit, said “a couple of tough issues” remain, but did not elaborate. Despite the nearing impasse, Obama said he is committed to continuing efforts. “It is worth trying,” Obama said to reporters. “To the extent that there are children and women and innocent civilians who can get food and medical supplies and, you know, get some relief from the constant terror of bombings, that’s worth the effort. And I think it’s premature for us to say that there is a clear path forward, but there is the possibility at least for us to make some progress on that front.”

Obama said it’s essential for Russia to be involved in a political solution. Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin plan to meet Monday. “Our conversations with the Russians are key because, if it were not for the Russians, then [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad and the regime would not be able to sustain its offensive,” he said.

Obama’s relations with Putin are strained now not only because of the Syrian situation but Moscow’s moves in Ukraine and the possibility the Russian leader is trying to help Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump get elected. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters the two sides are close but it is important for the United States to distinguish “the so-called moderate opposition from the terrorists.” Syrian rebel groups have worked alongside al-Nusra Front, which is now known as Jabhat Fateh al-sham or the Syria Conquest Front. “I will say that we are close to reaching a deal with the United States… there are no grounds to expect that everything would collapse.”

Kerry, at a news conference, reiterated the continuing efforts to make a cease-fire work. He did not comment about a July information-sharing proposal that would include coordinating air attacks against Jabhat Fateh al-sham in exchange for Russia pushing to stop offensives by Assad’s government.

Kerry later told reporters: “An awful lot of technical things have been worked out, a lot of things are clear, but there still remain, a couple of tough issues. “We’ve got to figure out how to make certain both of us can be comfortable with the resolution to those issues, so that’s what we’re working on.” Yesterday Obama also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose military has recently clashed with US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria.

“We discussed ways in which we can further cooperate in that regard,” Obama said after meeting with Erdogan, who survived a failed military coup Erdogan’s government is unhappy with the United States for not extraditing Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric who now lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Erdogan blames Gulen for plotting the coup.

USA is supposed to respect the NATO member and help Turkish government and not those who sought to kill President Erdogan and destabilize Turkey, but U.S. officials say they are awaiting sufficient evidence to justify the request to extradite Gulen, who is 75 and says he is in failing health. Erdogan said the United States and Turkey should adopt a “common attitude” against terrorism. Double speak is not good for allies. He noted there is a distinction between “good terrorists or bad,” he said, an indirect reference to Gulen and United States support for Kurdish fighters in Syria.

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya

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With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday. 

Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December. 

They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year. 

At the crossroads 

“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš.  “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.” 

He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.  

Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation. 

Foreign fighter threat 

The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline. 

“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.  

“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.” 

Young voters eager 

The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results. 

He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country. 

So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women.  Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots. 

“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš. 

He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.  

“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned.  “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”

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