Officials have been hyping a burst of “momentum” in favor of a rapprochement between the US and Russia and growing unanimity about the need for the diplomatic settlement that will end much of the Syrian Civil War to shift the focus to fighting ISIS.
Yet it seems to be momentum more in theory than in practice, as everyone is basically retaining their respective positions, which were at odds from the start, and all this new willingness to talk doesn’t seem to have come with a new willingness to compromise.
Officials concede that “very big gaps” remain, as Russia’s backing for free elections comes with the assumption the existing government’s leadership will be allowed to run, while the US position is that the existing government, and President Assad in particular, must be removed at all costs, and seem only to be open to an election so long as candidates are severely limited, ensuring that they know more or less who will win.
Britain has come across a bit in the middle, expressing openness to Assad remaining during a transition period before eventually being ousted, though they too don’t seem to be particularly interested in conceding fully free elections which Assad might conceivably win.
Russia’s concessions, by contrast, are largely independent of their long-standing calls for a deal, as they are expressing growing willingness to back Syrian rebel factions that agree to shift their focus to fighting ISIS. Russia is said to be talking with several rebel factions, but so far none have admitted to it, and the big ones seem to be committed to staying on America’s good side, which necessarily means spurning all Russian offers of aid.
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