MESOP NEWS “AFTER SPEAKING WITH MERKEL”: Putin Stepping Back from Assad?

By Scott Lucas – 3. May 2017 – eaworldview – In a day of Russian diplomatic initiatives, President Vladimir Putin has given the first public hint that he may not be committed to the long-term stay of Bashar al-Assad in office in Syria. Speaking at a joint news conference after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin restated the standard Russian line that the “Syrian people” should determine the future, but he then introduced a new clause, “Obviously this people is split.” The President continued, “We see big problems in Syrian society and our task is to create conditions for consolidation, for cessation of hostilities, for cessation of mutual destruction, for political dialogue of all conflicting forces.”

Russian officials have privately said that they are not wedded to Assad in power, as long as the Syrian state is favorable to Moscow’s interests, but the Kremlin has always avoided this explanation in public.Putin restated Russia’s supposed commmitment to a ceasefire — in the face of its escalation in bombing of opposition areas — and said, “We are confident that a solution to the Syrian problem can be found only through United Nations brokered peace talks.”

He also maintained Moscow’s double line on the April 4 chemical attack by the Assad regime on Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria. Although Russia vetoed a Security Council mandate for the Assad regime to cooperate with an international investigation, he declared:We resolutely condemn any use of chemical weapons.

Naturally, those responsible for the death of Syrians must be found and punished. But it should be done only after a thorough and unbiased investigation.

Putin later spoke to Donald Trump, in what both the Kremlin and White House said was a productive discussions. A “senior Trump administration official” said Putin had requested the call to present his ideas for Syria. It was the first contact between the two men since an April 7 US missile on an Assad regime airbase, responding to the regime’s deadly chemical attack on a town in northwest Syria three days earlier.The White House said that the two leaders agreed that “all parties must do all they can to end the violence”: “The conversation was a very good one, and included the discussion of safe, or de-escalation, zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons.”

The reference to the safe zones paralleled reports in Russian media that Moscow is proposing the safe zones — previously resisted by the Assad regime — with Russian, Iranian, and Turkish troops providing security on the ground. Yahya al-Aridi, a senior opposition representative, said Putin’s Syria envoy, Alexander Lavrentiev, presented the plan for four buffer zones at a meeting with anti-Assad groups last week in Ankara.

The White House said Washington will send a representative to political talks in the Kazakhstan capital on Wednesday and Thursday, the first American involvement since the US was sidelined by Russia and Turkey last autumn and the talks were launched in January.

The State Department said acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones will attend as an observer.

At the conference with Merkel, Putin said: Without the participation of a country such as the US, it’s impossible to resolve this problem effectively.We will continue to be in contact with our American partners and we hope to reach an understanding on joint steps in this important and sensitive field.