OBAMA PLUS CAMERON HELPLESS = WHAT NEXT ?/ Syria Today: US and Britain Play for Time

May 14, 2013 | Scott Lucas in EA Live, Middle East & Iran

0906 GMT:Government’s “Cautious Optimism” US-Russia Talks

Discussing the meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Information Minister, Omran al-Zoubi, said yesterday “The Syrian government expressed optimism but it is a cautious optimism since words are not enough, but rather there should be subsequent steps.”

He added “We are in need to know whether the Russian-US understanding is as important as the political solution and its necessity as a choice that applies to everyone and whether it is really a sole choice for the Americans and their allies in secret and in public.”

0857 GMT:Government Propaganda Line

State media has put out the line that it is reasserting its control in the ring of Damascus suburbs and the surrounding countryside “After restoring stability and security to al-Otaybah, Qayssa and al-Ghreifeh towns in Eastern Ghouta.”

The government also claimed to have “devastated terrorists’ dens” in a number of villages in Daar’a province, 110km south of Damascus close to the border with Jordan, as well as inflicting losses upon the rebels in the countryside around Homs and Idlib.

0620 GMT: Casualties

The Violations Documentation Center puts the confirmed death toll at 60,292 since the conflict begin in March 2011, an increase of 84 from Monday. Of those killed, 47,183 were civilians, a rise of 46 from yesterday.

0520 GMT: President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron Discuss Syria

After with British Prime Minister David Cameron after their meeting in the White House on Monday,  President Obama said they agreed “to increase pressure on the Assad regime, to provide humanitarian aid, … to strengthen the moderate opposition and to prepare for a democratic Syria without Bashar al-Assad.”

That anodyne checklist, which offered little of substance beyond Cameron’s declaration that Britain will double its “non-lethal” aid to the Syrian insurgency, covered a difficult reality.

Washington and London, after a week of political manoeuvres involving Russia and months of deliberations on the relationship with the insurgency, are caught up in indecision over their next steps.

On the military front, the US and Britain are providing not only limited non-lethal but also covert lethal aid to Syrian fighters; however, they are uncertain if they can or want to take this farther. Options like a no-fly zone, open supplies of weapons, and an increase in assistance with the objective of overthrowing Assad are being discussed without resolution — now or, it appears, in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the political approach to Moscow — with visits by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Cameron to Russian leader Vladimir Putin — does not seem to have brought results. The US and Britain may have been looking at a shift in strategy from backing of the military insurgency to negotiations between the regime and some version of the opposition. They may have been trying to pry away Russia from its support of Assad in power, both through politics and through military assistance. They may have been trying to do both.

The point is that Moscow has offered no indication that it needs to revise its position.

So Obama and Cameron did a photo opportunity yesterday and left the question:

What next?