Syrian government & “rebels” meet for talks in Kazakhstan
Bill Van Auken, WSWS, Jan 25 2017

For the first time in six years of the bloody conflict provoked by Pindostan and its vassals in pursuit of “regime change” in Syria, representatives of the government of Assad and those of the armed “rebels” backed by Faschingstein met face-to-face this week in Russian and Turkish-brokered talks held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Pindostan was conspicuous by its absence, declining to send any official delegation and present only in the person of its ambassador to Kazakhstan, who acted as an observer. While the talks accomplished little beyond an agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran to establish mechanisms for monitoring the ceasefire that was declared at the end of last year, the fact of the meeting itself was an expression of the debacle suffered by Faschingstein in its strategy to overturn the Assad regime and of the strategic reversal inflicted upon the “rebels” by the Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran, in retaking east Aleppo. The face-to-face meeting took place between a Syrian government delegation led by Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, and a “rebel” contingent headed by Mohammed Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam, a militia backed by the Toads that even Jackass Kerry referred to as a terrorist “sub-group.” Each side denounced the other as “terrorist,” and the same question that has stymied previous attempts at peace talks, the future of Assad, emerged early in the talks, with the “rebels” demanding his ouster as a precondition for a peace settlement, and the government insisting that his status is not up for discussion. Both sides accused the other of violating the Russian-Turkish-brokered cease-fire initiated on Dec 30. Like earlier abortive cessations of hostilities negotiated between Pindostan and Russia, the agreement does not cover either Daesh or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra. Jaafari insisted that the Syrian army would continue to carry out combat operations in the strategic Barada River Valley, to break the grip of Nusra over the village of Ain al-Fijah, which is the source of the water supply for the 7 million inhabitants of Damacus. The Islamist militia has cut off water to the city since Dec 23. The final statement issued by the meeting was signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, the sponsors of the talks, but not by either the “rebels” or the Assad government. It says:

The three signatories commit to establish a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with the ceasefire, prevent any provocations and determine all modalities of the ceasefire.

The communique signed by the three countries expressed support for the armed “rebel” groups participating in UN-sponsored peace talks set to take place in Geneva on Feb 8. While declaring their commitment to “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the document omitted the previous definition of Syria as a “secular” state. Jaafari said that the reference to secularism was taken out at the insistence of both Turkey and the armed groups. Despite the absence of an official US delegation, Moscow has expressed optimism that it will reach a rapprochement with Washington over Syria following the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. Moscow’s Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev, who led the Russian delegation at the talks, told reporters Tuesday:

Trump’s recent statements on him prioritizing not only the issues of internal policies, but also fighting terrorism, give hope. We think that the Pindosi leadership will take the right decisions towards coordination of efforts on the international level, to coordinate efforts to fight terrorism.

At the beginning of the week, Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed that the Pindo military had provided targeting information for a joint airstrike against ISIS positions in Syria. The Pentagon vigorously denied any such collaboration. The chief spokesman for the coalition in Baghdad called the claim by Moscow “rubbish.” Earlier this month, Russia did carry out joint airstrikes with Turkey against Daesh in the area around al-Bab, which Turkey is determined to capture as part of its campaign to prevent the Syrian Kurds from consolidating a contiguous enclave on Turkey’s border. Russia’s hopes for improved relations with Washington appeared to get a boost on Monday when Trump’s White House press secretary Sean Spicer answered a reporter’s question on potential collaboration in Syria by declaring:

I think if there’s a way that we can combat Daesh with any country, whether it’s Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that, sure, we’ll take it.

At the same time, however, both Trump and his key cabinet appointees, including Mad Dog Mattis, have signaled the incoming administration’s intention to ratchet up tensions with Iran, including through the possible withdrawal from the nuclear deal signed last July, and the re-imposition of the sanctions lifted as part of the deal. Such a provocative action could lead to Iran resuming its nuclear program and the reigniting of the threat of a far wider war in the region, including possible Pindo-backed airstrikes by Israel, which could draw in Russia as well. Significantly, the Syrian “rebel” representatives in Astana voiced their acceptance of Russia’s role as a mediator in the Syrian conflict, but strongly opposed that of Iran. Whether or not this stance was worked out in collaboration with the CIA and the Toads, its apparent aim is to harness the incoming Trump administration’s anti-Iran policy to further their own drive for regime change in Syria. In a further indication that the new administration’s “Pindostan First” policy is not isolationism but rather an explosive escalation of global militarism, Trump in his remarks Saturday at the CIA headquarters reiterated a statement he made during the 2016 presidential campaign, that Pindostan should have “taken” Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion. In his rambling address to the assembled CIA functionaries, Trump declared:

The old expression, ‘to the victor belong the spoils,’ you remember. I always used to say, keep the oil. I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong. And I always said, in addition to that, keep the oil. Now, I said it for economic reasons. But … if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have Daesh, because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you’ll have another chance.

Asked to clarify Trump’s statement, Spicer, the White House press secretary, stated:

We want to be sure our interests are protected. We’re going into a country for a cause. He wants to be sure Pindostan is getting something out of it for the commitment and sacrifice it is making.

Iraqi PM Abadi issued a fairly subdued reaction to Trump’s implicit threat, declaring that “Iraq’s oil is constitutionally the property of the Iraqis” and claiming he had commitments from the new administration for increased aid. Whether Trump’s offhand comment about “another chance” for seizing oil was directed at Iraq or is an indication of the threat of new and even bloodier wars of aggression against Iran, or even Russia, is unclear.

Trump Team Aims to Test Russia’s Alliance With Iran
Eli Lake, Bloomberg, Jan 24 2017

As the Trump administration begins planning its outreach to Moscow, one question for the new president will be whether he can persuade Russia to turn away from Iran. The two countries have grown closer since 2015, when a group of nations lifted some sanctions on Iran in exchange for more transparency about its nuclear program. Russia sells Iran advanced air defense systems, and Iran provides its officers and militias to conquer the Syrian towns and cities indiscriminately bombed by Russian aircraft. Trump administration officials tell me that they will explore the extent to which Putin wants to end this relationship and cooperate with Pindosi policy to counter Iranian aggression Iran in Syria and the Middle East. Michael Ledeen, who during the transition served as an adviser to Michael Flynn, now Trump’s national security adviser, said:

It’s important to find out what are the limits of Russia’s willingness to cooperate with us with regard to Iran. Those conversations have to take place.

Ledeen was Flynn’s co-author ghost-writer on “Field of Fight,” a 2016 book that outlined his GWOT. That book makes the case that Iran must be defeated in order to win the war against radical Islam. At the same time, Flynn and Ledeen are also critical of Russia’s value as a partner in the war against Daesh, writing:

When it is said that Russia would make an ideal partner for fighting radical Islam, it behooves us to remember that the Russians haven’t been very effective at fighting Jihadis on their own territory, and are in cahoots with the Iranians. In Syria, the two allies have loudly proclaimed they are waging war against Daesh, but in reality the great bulk of their efforts are aimed at the opponents of the Assad regime. (Demonstrable delusional falsity from the AEI/neocon playbook.)

Now a great bulk of the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts will be to persuade Russia to cut the Iranians loose in Syria and to end arms sales to the Islamic Republic. Another factor will be the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by Trump’s predecessor. Trump has said he will not withdraw right away from it. But he has also been critical of the deal, and some incoming officials have said they would like to see if it’s possible to renegotiate better terms. In this sense, Trump is hewing closely to Barack Obama’s playbook when he came into office in 2009. Back then, Pindostan scrapped a missile defense deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland and did not further pressure Russia on its occupation of Georgian territory following the 2008 war. In exchange, the Russians supported a UNSCR against Iran’s nuclear program and negotiated an arms control treaty limiting long-range nuclear weapons for both countries. It’s unclear what the Russians would want in return this time around. Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who was an architect of Obama’s first-term outreach to Russia, told me he didn’t know what Trump could offer Putin in exchange for abandoning Iran, a key ally and trading partner. He said:

Are we going to buy Russian weapons systems that Moscow can now sell to Tehran? Of course not. Are we going to get our Sunni allies to do so? That seems unlikely. I just don’t see what Putin has to gain from such a deal.

Putin has at times hinted at what he’d like from Pindostan. Before the election, the Kremlin announced it was suspending an agreement to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium in October. The Kremlin’s announcement said Russia would consider renewing the plutonium agreement if Pindostan reduced its military presence in NATO countries along its borders, canceled sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and compensated Russia for revenue it lost because of those sanctions. Trump himself has not said specifically what he would be willing to offer the Russians, though he has said he would be willing to lift sanctions on Russia under the right circumstances and has said in interviews that he is interested in pursuing new arms-control agreements with Russia. Either way, the Iranian problem remains. Matthew McInnis, a former DIA analyst on Iran now at the AEI, told me:

I see absolutely no way that you drive the Iranians out of Syria. But I could see how you reduce Iranian influence and presence there. That is a goal they could pursue.

McInnis said this would mean Russia agrees to support rebuilding a Syrian army that would not be under the sway of Iran and its foreign militias. Trump could also use the opportunity to play mind games with Iran’s notoriously paranoid leaders. The Romanovs humiliated Iran in the 19th century with punitive treaties. Last summer tensions rose briefly when the Russians acknowledged they were flying air missions out of Iran into Syria. Iranian mistrust of Russia can be exploited with deft diplomacy. It will be a balancing act. Trump will have a hard time persuading Congress that any accommodation of Russia these days is worth it, particularly because the intelligence community is now investigating ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin’s government before the election. Meanwhile Russia will have to weigh whether it values a new friendship with Pindostan over the one it already has with Iran.

Trading Sanctions for Nuclear Arms Cuts? Russia’s Security is Not for Sale
Sputnik, Jan 24 2017

Moscow does not intend to reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal in exchange for Pindostan removing some of the sanctions imposed on Russia, defense analyst Igor Korotchenko told Radio Sputnik, commenting on Donald Trump’s remarks suggesting that the two issues could be linked. The analyst explained:

For Russia the issue of partial sanctions relief in exchange for concessions in the military and strategic area is absolutely unacceptable. Such an issue has not been on the agenda and will never be. We are not using our security as a bargaining chip. Russia and Pindostan could well discuss nuclear arms reduction, but Pindostan will have to meet several conditions. Firstly, it has to transfer all of the B61 tactical nuclear bombs stationed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey back to Pindosi soil. One of the primary thermonuclear weapons in the Pentagon’s stockpile, the B61 is currently undergoing a major upgrade. The B61-12 warhead life extension program (LEP) has already entered the production engineering phase, with production scheduled to begin in 2020. Secondly, Pindostan needs to sign legally binding documents limiting its ability to develop its missile defense system, by decreasing the number of missile deployment areas in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Last year, Pindostan and NATO put online an Aegis Ashore missile defense site in Deveselu, Romania. A similar facility is expected to become operational in Redzikowo, Poland, in 2018. In addition, Pindostan must make a commitment to refrain from deploying the sea-based components of the missile defense system in waters close to Russia’s borders. Pindostan must also agree not to position its missile defense system in space. Furthermore, nuclear arsenals of Britain and France should also be made part of the deal. Until now we have only negotiated with the Pindosis. Taking into account that Britain and France are Pindostan’s closest allies and engage in joint nuclear planning, their potential must also be considered. If Washington meets these conditions, then we can engage in a dialogue. Otherwise, the process of reducing our nuclear weapons will largely be detrimental to Russia’s national security.

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