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Outcomes of the Sochi conclave on Syria

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Is Russia trying to replace UN with Sochi talks after the USA tried for years to make UN an integral part of CIA? Not exactly and on the contrarily!

Russia seeks genuine results of Syria talks to end the long war there began as part of Arab Spring.

The claims that the Sochi talks were some kind of a rouge operation to knock the UN talks out of the box were a complete hoax, mainly because Russia was coordinating Sochi with the UN, publicly stating they were no attempt so replace the UN. But the problem with UN is its all efforts to keep the talks going nowhere by constantly demanding pre-conditions.

In fact the UN talks had been bogged down by the Saudi High Negotiation Committee’s (HNC). When the UN is helpless, Sochi was designed to get around that roadblock. Sochi meant against the small group of deal killers like the HNC, that the majority would not be held hostage to their demands.

The opposition’s strategy can clearly be seen as an attempt to stall the political talks to give the US coalition time to crank up some new chaos in Syria to have them die of crib death. But it seems that the Turkish military entry as a part of US invasion of Syria (and larger West Asia perspective) invasion is one finger of that ploy.

Of course, Russia cannot solve all problems in Middle East since USA has planned very meticulously to destabilize the region minus Israel. Thus the whole purpose of Sochi was not to solve all the problems, but get the process jump started and quite visibly so towards finding an end first and then move on to the UN. The concluding twelve point statement was a home run in that regard, and the cherry on top was to move the next step in the process back to Geneva where some of the key issues could be solved.

All this can in no way be claimed as excluding the UN from the process, and the 1600 participants established a large and diverse representation of those wanting to move forward.

Moscow also believes Syrian puzzle cannot be fully resolved without freeing Afghanistan from the clutches of foreign forces and nations that invaded, devastated and destabilized that South Asian nation on the pretext of Sept-11. The critical focus now for a successful resolution to the Syrian crisis is to maintain momentum with the political process.

Russia, Iran, and Turkey have been organizing peace talks for Syria in the Kazakh capital of Astana since January 2017. Together, the three countries have been acting as guarantor states for the peace process. They continue their sincere efforts despite the US-Israeli interferences to disrupt the peace process as they did in Mideast peace process where Israel regulates for disaster the US sponsored bogus talks with the besieged Palestinians. .

Capitalizing on the achievements of Astana, Russia on January 29-30 convened a high-profile meeting on Syria — the Syrian Congress of National Dialog — in Sochi. President Puitn sponsored it.

One Syrian opposition faction, directly controlled by USA, boycotted the meeting, and some non-political groups opposed to Damascus later accused the UN of “rewarding” Russia “upfront” by dispatching Special Envoy de Mistura to the event before securing concessions from Russia and the Syrian government.

West Asia is in the process of geopolitical change and USA is likely to b lose its any importance it thinks it has had in the region. In fact, USA is not welcome in West Asia but America doesn’t want to let Russia occupy its space in the region. Russia and Iran are Syrian government allies and USA opposes them.

In fact, Saudi’s now “alliance” with Israel is only a tactic move to isolate Iran in the region which looks impossible mainly because Tehran has already gone board with its sectarian policy arming and promoting the Shiia forces. As USA and Israel continue to target Islam and promote its divisions, the sectarian attitudes cannot simply vanish from the scene all together.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who also took part in Sochi dialogue, has rejected criticism of the world body’s participation at Syrian peace talks in the Russian resort city of Sochi, praising the outcome of the discussions.  Speaking at a press conference at the UN headquarters New York, Guterres said the presence of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Misturain in Sochi was based on a common understanding between the UN and the Russian Federation on the nature and outcome of the meeting and its contribution to the UN-mediated Geneva process.

Absentees and disagreements

With the USA having proven to be a fake mediator in regional conflicts, Russia has taken the lead. The Sochi summit revealed the impotence of Russia as the main arbiter of the Syrian conflict. The Turk-Russian alliance that led the Astana process did not complement Geneva but in a way was aimed to replace it.

With Russia that has become a formidable rival to the USA in the Syrian theater, with Turkey outraged by Washington’s support for the adversarial Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and with Iran seen as a hostile element by the Trump regime, Geneva is becoming increasingly irrelevant to resolving the Syrian conflict.

Before the Sochi conclave, Russian President Putin had a telephonic conversation with the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The leaders stressed the importance of implementing the reached agreements aimed at the effective promotion of the Syrian political settlement process on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Putin and Erdogan also discussed Russia-Turkey coordination to ensure stable operation of de-escalation zones in Syria and interaction in the Astana format.

There have been disagreements among the participants of the summit as well. For example, 83 delegates from the Syrian opposition unexpectedly refused to sit down for talks under the official Syrian flag. They kept 1,511 other participants waiting for several hours on Jan. 30 and finally boarded the plane and flew back to Turkey.

The Syrian Kurds, outraged by Turkey’s Afrin operation, boycotted the meeting. Not only was the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) absent from Sochi, but also absent was its main rival, the Kurdish National Council — a pro-Massoud Barzani alliance recognized by Turkey.  More interestingly, Abdel Basset Sieda, the former chairman of the Syrian National Council that Turkey formed and supported, not only refused to go to Sochi but also resigned from the Turkey-backed Syrian group. In sum, there was no real Syrian Kurdish representation in Sochi. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls a sizable swath of Syrian territory, was not in Sochi either.

The opening ceremony has been untypically chaotic for a meeting organized by Russia. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech was interrupted several times by members of the audience shouting slogans. Thus, the Sochi meeting was crippled from the very beginning because of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin and the alienation of the Kurds.

Nonetheless, Russia pushed forward — at the end of deliberations, a communique that the Russian media titled “Syrian Congress in Sochi brings war-torn country closer to constitutional reform” was adopted.

UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which envisaged a “Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition in order to end the conflict in Syria,” is to be realized in 18 months, but is long overdue. Indeed, the last part of the Sochi communique was a display of this helplessness. The communique said: “We agreed to form a constitutional committee comprising the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic delegation along with a wide-represented opposition delegation for the drafting of a constitutional reform as a contribution to the political settlement under the UN auspices in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254. … We appeal to the UN secretary-general to assign the Special Envoy for Syria for the assistance of the Constitutional Committee work in Geneva”.

If Turkey’s Afrin operation drags on with high civilian casualties that can’t be concealed from the attention of the international public for long, the endorsement of Ankara could turn out to be a liability rather than an asset for those actors in the Syrian theater. “We continue to monitor the developments in northern Syria, which are a matter of grave concern,” said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, in an apparent change of tone that might be an indication of Russia’s position shift.

Sochi, by the last paragraphs of its communique, passes the ball to Geneva and implicitly declares the limitations of Russia in Syria. Indeed, Turkey, seeking genuine peace n the region, was quick to endorse the outcome of Sochi and link it to Geneva. In fact, Turkey has acted in a constructive manner about the Russian Federation’s Syrian National Dialogue Congress initiative from the beginning.

 

Observation: light the other end of tunnel?  

The Sochi summit, ignored by USA and Israel that took place at the end of January, was designed to underline the successful achievements of Russia’s involvement in Syria and to consolidate the partnership among Russia, Turkey and Iran. However, the summit revealed the limitations of Russia’s Syria policy instead of Moscow’s growing influence across the Middle East.

The Sochi conference took place just days after the ninth round of UN-led Syria talks failed to achieve tangible results. That round was exceptionally held in the Austrian capital, Vienna, instead of its usual venue of Geneva. Around 1,600 delegates representing a wide range of Syrian political factions attended the Sochi talks. The event was boycotted by the High Negotiations Committee, which is based in and guided by Saudi Arabia.

The most important outcome of the congress was the call for the establishment of a Constitutional Committee and the selection of a pool of 150 candidates for this committee. The Turkish delegation, which was given the mandate to represent opposition groups that didn’t attend the congress, submitted a list of 50 candidates in consultation with the opposition.

The establishment process of the Constitutional Committee will be closely monitored by Turkey as the guarantor of the opposition.” Having decided on forming a constitutional committee comprising the regime in Damascus and an undefined but widely represented opposition delegation is only going back to square one: Geneva.

Syria welcomed the results of the event and stressed that its final statement affirmed that political progress in Syria cannot begin except under the Syrian leadership and without any foreign interference.

Turkey, seeking to remove Assad, is an ally of the Syrian opposition led by USA and backed by Israel. The collective efforts of the three countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran have significantly reduced fighting in Syria, have made an impact on the ground in the Arab country.

Thanks to its control over the Syrian opposition, Turkey definitely will have leverage in shaping the future steps of the resolution process. However, its military operation in Afrin and its ever-widening chasm with Washington are making Ankara more reliant on Moscow. The latest standoff in Idlib revealed this. The Idlib rift also implies how difficult it would be for Moscow to reconcile the differences among its partners in Syria.

While there is no visible opposition protests worldwide to US intervention in Syria- the real cause of war in Syria and West Asia- criticism is leveled against Turkish intervention in Syria to target the Kurds. That is to say USA and Israel can do any devilish nonsense and cause more serious problems, but Turkey cannot do that. US-Israeli fascist duo arranges protests against Turkey.

In contrast, a peace process held under the auspices of the UN — that in Geneva — has achieved little and hence the importance of Sochi. That has angered some Western and Arab governments opposed to the Syrian government and some groups of Syrian opposition backed by those governments. They insist that the Geneva process be given more importance despite its failure so far to make meaningful achievements.

Saudi Arabia, like Israel and USA, thinks it owns and controls the region and does not take any interest in solving the regional problems and it does not allow any other power to try that.

Guterres appreciated Russia’s engagement with the UN regarding the Syria talks. He highlighted the key subjects of the 12-point final Sochi statement, saying that the document embraced a vision of Syria for all its citizens and underlined the need for the formation of a Constitutional Committee under UN auspices.

Syria is likely to return to normalcy without or with Assad in power that, in order for his own survival, got thousands killed by the invading foreign forces, by the Opposition forces and by his own forces. Unlike President Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Col Gaddafi, Sunni leaders whom USA murdered mercilessly, Assad is lucky to survive the US led attacks mainly because the CIA does not target his life but destabilization of Syria.

Meanwhile, President Putin is getting ready for the March elections, and Erdogan could call for early elections this coming summer. The partnership between the two men and the seemingly converging interests of the two countries constitute a strong connection to the domestic political calculations of both strongmen. Iran stands to benefit from both.

Middle East

China in the Middle East: Stepping up to the plate

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By defining Chinese characteristics as “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution, Messrs. Sun and Wu were suggesting that China was seeking to prepare the ground for greater Chinese engagement in efforts to stabilize the Middle East, a volatile region that repeatedly threatens to spin out of control.

The scholars defined China’s goal as building an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

By implication, Messrs. Sun and Wu’s vision reflected a growing realization in China that it no longer can protect its mushrooming interests exclusively through economic cooperation, trade, and investment.

It also signalled an understanding that stability in the Middle East can only be achieved through an inclusive, comprehensive, and multilateral reconstructed security architecture of which China would have to be part.

Messrs. Sun and Wu’s article, published in a prominent Chine policy journal, was part of a subtle and cautious Chinese messaging that was directed towards players on all sides of the Middle East’s multiple divides.

To be clear, China, like Russia, is not seeking to replace the United States, certainly not in military terms, as a dominant force in the Middle East. Rather, it is gradually laying the groundwork to capitalize on a US desire to rejigger its regional commitments by exploiting US efforts to share the burden more broadly with its regional partners and allies.

China is further suggesting that the United States has proven to be unable to manage the Middle East’s myriad conflicts and disputes, making it a Chinese interest to help steer the region into calmer waters while retaining the US military as the backbone of whatever restructured security architecture emerges.

Implicit in the message is the assumption that the Middle East may be one part of the world in which the United States and China can simultaneously cooperate and compete; cooperate in maintaining regional security and compete on issues like technology.

That may prove to be an idealized vision. China, like the United States, is more likely to discover that getting from A to B can be torturous and that avoiding being sucked into the Middle East’s myriad conflicts is easier said than done.

China has long prided itself on its ability to maintain good relations with all sides of the divide by avoiding engagement in the crux of the Middle East’s at times existential divides.

Yet, building a sustainable security architecture that includes conflict management mechanisms, without tackling the core of those divides, is likely to prove all but impossible. The real question is at what point does China feel that the cost of non-engagement outweighs the cost of engagement?

The Middle East is nowhere close to entertaining the kind of approaches and policies required to construct an inclusive security architecture. Nevertheless, changes to US policy being adopted by the Biden administration are producing cracks in the posture of various Middle Eastern states, albeit tiny ones, that bolster the Chinese messaging.

Various belligerents, including Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey, but not Iran or Israel, at least when it comes to issues like Iran and the Palestinians, have sought to lower the region’s temperature even if fundamentals have not changed.

A potential revival of the 2015 international Iran nuclear agreement could provide a monkey wrench.

There is little doubt that any US-Iranian agreement to do so would focus exclusively on nuclear issues and would not include other agenda points such as ballistic missiles and Iranian support for non-state actors in parts of the Middle East. The silver lining is that ballistic missiles and support for non-state actors are issues that Iran would likely discuss if they were embedded in a discussion about restructured regional security arrangements.

This is where China may have a significant contribution to make. Getting all parties to agree to discuss a broader, more inclusive security arrangement involves not just cajoling but also assuaging fears, including whether and to what degree Chinese relations with an Iran unfettered by US sanctions and international isolation would affect Gulf states.

To be sure, while China has much going for it in the Middle East such as its principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, its affinity for autocracy, and its economic weight and emphasis on economic issues, it also needs to manage pitfalls. These include reputational issues despite its vaccine diplomacy, repression of the Uyghurs in the north-western province of Xinjiang, and discrimination against other Muslim communities.

China’s anti-Muslim policies may not be an immediate issue for much of the Muslim world, but they continuously loom as a potential grey swan.

Nevertheless, China, beyond doubt, alongside the United States can play a key role in stabilizing the Middle East. The question is whether both Beijing and Washington can and will step up to the plate.

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Middle East

The US doesn’t deserve a sit on the UNHRC, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen

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A family in the Al Dhale'e camp for people displaced by the conflict in Yemen. YPN for UNOCHA

Last week, the US State Department communicated its intention of joining the UN Human Rights Council later this year. The UN General Assembly will be voting this October on who gets to join the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. 47 members is less than a fourth of all UN member states, so only very few countries get a seat and a say.

The United States does not deserve to join the UN Human Rights Council, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

The Human Rights Council is often criticized, especially by the right in the US, for having only bad human rights actors with atrocious records as members. But the US is not an exception to the atrocious human rights record club. 

In the seemingly war-less Trump period, the US nevertheless still managed to get engaged in war and war crimes in the completely devastated Yemen, which was hit by the worst humanitarian crisis and famine over the last years, after US-backed Saudi forces basically flattened the country. Over 13mln people suffered from starvation. Media and human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch alike have pointed to US complicity in war crimes in Yemen.

Months ago, I criticized UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore for lauding the Saudis’ “humanitarian leadership” in Yemen for the price of USD 150mln. The UN blue-washing partnerships were possible after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres removed Saudi Arabia from the UN blacklist in 2020 to make sure the rivers of cash by the Saudi humanitarian heroes kept flowing in the UN’s direction. But in October this year, it is not Antonio-it’s not a big deal-Guterres that decides who gets on the UN Human Rights Council. It’s all the UN member states. And many of them will not be impressed by the Saudi humanitarian leadership.

And even though a month ago, new US President Joe Biden announced that the US is ending its support for the Saudi offensive – and in parallel the US intell revealed the Khashoggi report which outlined the Saudi prince’s involvement in the murder of the journalist – questions still persist about the US role in the Yemeni situation from now on. 73% of all Saudi arms imports come from the US. The US State Department will simply be playing on words from now on in redefining what constitutes “offensive” support for the Saudi coalition, as the State Department Spokesperson Ned Price seemed to suggest. Any military expert knows how difficult it is to differentiate between offensive and defensive capabilities. Unless it’s really barb wire standing on your border, it’s pretty hard to make the case that something will serve for only defensive purposes. Especially if the “defense-only” capabilities are for a war-driven Saudi-led coalition. So, basically the Biden policy is the Trump policy, but much more polished. The language is more technocraticly elegant, but the essence is the same – just like many of the other decisions by the Biden Administration in its first weeks. It’s basically Trump, only the phrasing is much more polished and professionally shrewd.

This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Yemen’s Houthies for breaking the peace in responding to the Saudi forces, but it is safe to say that there isn’t much peace to break in Yemen, and the US has also taken care of that. So, Blinken’s statement reveals a new doze of hypocrisy – hypocrisy, which also characterizes the US’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council.

Biden’s Syria strikes that left many Biden supporters quite surprised last week also indicated that many of us who thought Biden would be a classical Democrat centrist were actually wrong. Biden has much more in common with the right now, judging by his very first policy choices – at home and foreign policy wise.

The US government will have to try a bit harder than “we are not Trump”, if it wants to convince the rest of the countries in October that it deserves a sit on the human rights table. If the Biden Administration continues the same way, it’s not going to be able to do so.

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Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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