U.S., Russia freeze off their noses in Syria

Failure to overcome frosty diplomatic relations will cost both the U.S. and Russia.

Kate Lieb By Kate Lieb

Time to shake hands on Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters)

It is time for the U.S and Russia to thaw out the frost covering their diplomatic relations, argues a U.S. academic. The Syrian people can’t wait much longer.

In a column published by The Moscow TimesNew York University professor Alon Ben-Meir faults both nations for exacerbating Syria’s civil war through ineffective policy and vague promises. Ben-Meir takes both countries to task for their unwavering positions:

If Russia, the main supporter of the Assad regime, still believes that Assad can survive and will support him to the bitter end, Moscow is making a colossal mistake.

Conversely, if the United States continues to issue one toothless condemnation after another and seeks cover under hollow political plans to oust Assad, it will end up in no better position than Russia.

Ben-Meir says Russia knows the Assad government will fall. Because of this, he believes that Russia and the U.S. should work together on a diplomatic resolution that appeals to both sides. “Neither Russia nor the United States can allow the crisis to destroy the country through tens of thousands of casualties without severely undercutting their immediate and long-term interests,” he writes.

In particular, the two nations need to prepare the Syrian National Council, created to oppose Assad, to take over the government once the regime falls. Meir says ideally a three-to-five-year interim period should ensue before elections, in part to allow secular political parties time to develop and blunt the influence of Islamists.

If the U.S. and Russia fail to find a common path, he says the Syrian conflict will spill over borders and impact the Middle East for a decade or more.