Andrea Mitchell is one of America's great diplomatic/foreign pollicy journalists--very experienced, super smart, unbelievably sourced. She's over in Geneva right now, and I'm watching her MSNBC show, and she doesn't sound very optimistic that Kerry and Lavrov are making any progress.
I don't doubt her for a second. I do find it interesting that the Washington Post's latest dispatch sounds a little more hopeful:
A proposal for an international peace conference to end the brutal Syrian civil war could be revived if negotiations over ridding the country of chemical weapons succeed, top U.S. and Russian diplomats said Friday.
The remarks by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were the first explicit indication that the diplomacy begun this week to resolve the immediate crisis of threatened U.S. military strikes could be a gateway to a broader negotiation aimed at ending the 21 / 2-year-old conflict.
If aides are leaking talk like that to the Post, that could indicate that they think things are going well. But of course Kerry hasn't exactly bowled the world over lately with his misstatements, so maybe this is a miscalculation.
Mitchell thinks the problem is the basic one: Russia (and Assad) say Syria will sign the CW accord only if the United States disavows the threat of violence, and we say that's an absolutely necessary condition. There would appear to be no way around this problem, although there's nothing that prevents a deal whereby force is officially taken off the table for the purposes of the current resolution, but if Syria fails to start complying fast, the United States can come back for a second resolution. Of course, Russia must agree not to block it.
If they can work something out there, even then I think a broader solution is a pretty tall order, no? If you're Assad, what impulse on earth makes you want to go to the negotiating table? What are you negotiating? You're doing nothing but negotiating away your power, or at least some of it. It doesn't seem to me that a dictator who has killed 100,000 of his people and started gassing them and already feels himself the leader of an embattled minority sect is very likely to do that.
Assad will belly up to a negotiating table when he is reduced to the following two options: 1, belly up to the negotiating table; 2, be torn limb from limb in the streets like Gaddhafi was. I suppose I could be wrong about this, but I think we're not remotely at the stage where he's prepared to negotiate anything. True, the different rebel groups hold a lot of territory, but one reads different reports about the regime's military readiness, mixed enough to suggest there's still some gas in that tank.
Now Andrea just said that Kerry is hedaed to Jerusalem after this. So maybe he's trying to pull off a bigger deal altogether, a Syria-Israel deal of some kind. Now, Assad would never attack Israel, because he knows he'd be massacred, and even now Israel is launching little strikes into Syria lately just to remind him. But that reality doesn't mean he'd consummate a deal with Israel. But some kind of off-the-record arrangement could be struck, and it could help Kerry in the talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
And if Kerry pulls all this off, he's the Metternich of our times. It seems rather more likely that the Geneva meetings will wrap up inconclusively, and we Americans will just start forgetting about the whole business for a while.