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Russia Floats Trial Balloon for Syria Peace Deal -- Saudis Shoot It Down

Originally appeared at Zero Hedge

One of the most amusing things about watching Washington’s Syria strategy unravel over the past three or so months is the extent to which John Kerry has scaled back the “Assad must go rhetoric.” 

Put simply, once Russia and Iran stepped up their involvement, there was no point in continuing to insist upon his ouster. 

In fact, persisting with the hardline stance actually risked making The Pentagon look even more ridiculous because unless the US intended to actually go to war alongside the rebels and various other militants fighting the Russians and Iranians, anti-regime forces are likely to lose this battle and because there’s little chance that Moscow and Tehran are going to go along with any kind of “compromise” that sees a puppet government of the US and Saudi Arabia installed in Damascus, “insisting” on something and then having Sergei Lavrov deliver a flat “no” is even more embarrassing than just coming out and acknowledging that the calculus has changed. 

Still, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey aren’t ready to throw in the towel and indeed, Riyadh and Doha have at various times suggested that they may be contemplating direct military action. After all, this is an epic opportunity for the Saudis to break Tehran’s “Shiite crescent” and the effort is now falling completely apart. 

Well, just as we predicted, Russia is attempting to orchestrate “elections” in Syria and Moscow hasn’t “ruled out” Assad running. Say what you will about support for the Assad government among Syrians, the idea that there is going to be a free and fair election in Syria in the middle of the war is patently absurd. If Assad were to run, Assad would almost surely win (for all kinds of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with the democratic will of the people) and then Russia and Iran would be able to tell the rest of the world to go home because the Syrian people have “spoken.” 

As Reuters reports, a new “draft” document outlines Moscow’s idea for a political solution. It purportedly involves an 18-month constitutional reform initiative followed by elections. It was promptly rejected by the opposition and “Gulf commentators.” Here’s more: 

Syrian opposition figures and Gulf commentators dismissed on Wednesday a Russian draft proposal for a process to solve the Syrian crisis, saying Moscow's aim was to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power and marginalize dissenting voices.

A draft document obtained by Reuters on Tuesday showed Moscow would like Damascus and unspecified opposition groups to agree on launching a constitutional reform process of up to 18 months, followed by early presidential elections.

The text, obtained by Reuters, does not rule out Assad's participation in early presidential elections, something his enemies say is impossible if there is to be peace.

"The Syrian people have never accepted the dictatorship of Assad and they will not accept that it is reintroduced or reformulated in another way," said Monzer Akbik, member of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition.

Hadi al-Bahra, a member of the coalition's political committee, said the main problem was Assad and any political process needed to tackle this with assurances and guarantees.

He also dismissed the idea of holding elections under the current system. "How can the elections be fair when the citizens inside Syria are afraid of retaliation from the security services of the regime?" he said.

"The Russians are basically trying to wiggle out of Geneva," said Mustafa Alani, director of defense and security at the Gulf Research Centre (GRC) think tank. "So it is the question of he can stay: it's a red line for all the Gulf Cooperation Council. Absolutely a red line. This is something that won't be a negotiable issue."

Saudi Arabia is one of Assad's most strident opponents and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said he must be removed from power as part of a solution.

Saud Humaid Assubayii, security affairs committee chairman at Saudi Arabia's appointed Shura Council, said the proposal was flawed because it did not rule out Assad's participation in elections.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he said the Syrian president should not be able to stand because "he killed hundreds of thousands of his own people" in the war.

So assess all of the claims made there for yourself, but the takeaway is that no matter whether the US, out of sheer diplomat necessity, rolls back its demands, this is ultimately a battle between the Saudis and Iran, and Riyadh is not at all prepared to see this nearly five-year effort to break Tehran’s regional influence go to waste just as Iran comes off international sanctions and cranks up its oil production while simultaneously allying with Baghdad and forging energy deals with the Russians. 

As for the Syrian government - or whatever is left of it - there’s no question as to what the outcome is going to be, and on that note, we’ll close with a quote from a “source close to Damascus” who spoke to Reuters:

"The Russians and the Iranians agree with each other on the topic of commitment to Assad - this commitment is final.”

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