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Kerry Expected to Propose Syria Cooperation in Moscow

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Moscow Thursday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They are expected to discuss (RFE/RL) the five-year Syrian civil war, the future of President Bashar al-Assad, and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The Washington Post reported that Kerry is expected to propose increased coordination against extremist groups (AP), including  joint bombing operations, a command center for the two countries based out of Amman, and intelligence collaboration. Syrian and Russian planes have reportedly bombed civilian and opposition sites (WaPo) despite a cease-fire that took effect in February. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Islamic State confirmed (BBC) the death of commander Omar Shishani. The United States said he died from injuries sustained in a U.S. strike in northeastern Syria in March, but the militant group said he died in battle outside Mosul, Iraq.


“Overall, the proposal would dramatically shift the United States’ Syria policy by directing more American military power against Jabhat al-Nusra, which unlike the Islamic State is focused on fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While this would expand the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Syria, it would also be a boon for the Assad regime, which could see the forces it is fighting dramatically weakened. The plan also represents a big change in U.S.-Russia policy. It would give Russian President Vladi­mir Putin something he has long wanted: closer military relations with the United States and a thawing of his international isolation,” Josh Rogin writes for the Washington Post.

“In Syria, meanwhile, both rebels and extremist groups have ground down the defenses of President Bashar al-Assad. In turn, Iraq and Syria’s armies have had to rely on other forces to fight their opponents. In 2012, the Syrian state partnered with Iran to create the National Defense Forces, regime loyalists whom Assad depicted as patriotic fighters volunteering to support the state against ‘terrorism’—which for the regime is a broad term that includes ISIS and rebels alike. Syria later added to the mix the Russian-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a primarily Kurdish militia that battles ISIS in the country’s northern and eastern regions. Assad’s use of non-governmental militias is not just about fighting ISIS. It is also about rebranding. The Syrian regime seeks to portray the state’s suppression of what began as an uprising as a popular effort to eradicate terrorism,” Lina Khatib writes for Foreign Affairs.

“The State Department ‘dissent channel’ memo on the United States’ policy in Syria, leaked last month, is just the latest expression of a widespread belief in and out of government that American intervention in Syria is necessary and would be successful. After five years of brutal, grinding war, this view is understandable. The idea of the United States saving the Middle East from itself appeals to liberal hawks and neoconservatives alike. Unfortunately, when that notion has carried the day — as it did in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 — regional security and stability have worsened,” Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson write for the New York Times.