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That Syrian, er, surrender. Whose idea was it?

Monday, 16 September, 2013

“This is a victory for Syria won thanks to our Russian friends.” Who speaks there? None other than Ali Haidar, leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, whose business card is embossed with the surreal title of “Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs”.

Speaking about the Kerry-Obama diplomatic triumph in Geneva, Haidar told the Russian state news agency Ria Novosti that it was “the achievement of the Russian diplomacy and the Russian leadership.” Given that Syria is now a Russian protectorate, he would say that, wouldn’t he? But a less partisan observer might be disinclined to agree. Rainy Day has identified three non-Russian contenders for the “Syrian surrender” prize. Let’s start with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Last Monday in London, Kerry was asked by a reporter whether there was anything the Assad regime could do to avoid a US military strike. “Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting [of it], but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done,” said Kerry.

“If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, gleefully running with the Kerry remark, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem toadfully piped up that his government “agreed to the Russian initiative,” adding that Syria did so to “uproot US aggression.”

Clearly, the Russians were playing opportunist here and Kerry was speaking off-the-cuff so the prize goes to neither. Step up, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and cue Twitter:

Sikorski told reporters that he had “proposed the ultimatum” to John Kerry after getting the support of the European People’s Party during a meeting in Vilnius, and he had also tweeted at the end of August that “Russia can possibly prevent war be declaring that she will secure Syria’s chemical arsenal, which the USSR created.”

Our final contender for the Syrian-surrender prize is The Economist. In its leader of 31 August, Hit him hard, it concluded: “Mr Obama must give Mr Assad one last chance: a clear ultimatum to hand over his chemical weapons entirely within a very short period. The time for inspections is over.” This was read, no doubt, by Kerry, Lavrov, Sikorski, Mr al-Moallem and Mrs al-Assad. The result was a carefully planted “gaffe” in London, an instant follow-up in Moscow, pre-programmed agreement in Damascus and a “breakthrough” in Geneva. Coincidence? Unlikely.

Finally, let’s return to Ali Haidar, the Syrian “Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs”. How’s that working out? In today’s Washington Post, Liz Sly writes, “At close of a week hailed as diplomatic triumph, more than 1,000 die in Syria.”


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