US-Russian Relations Tense As Syrian Peace Conference Looms
US-Russian Relations Remain Frayed As Syrian Talks Loom Prior to voting on a United Nations meeting on May 29, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized a US draft resolution condemning Syria for “widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights.”
Russia, which has consistently blocked efforts by the US and West to condemn the activities of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, characterized it as an “extremely unwholesome initiative.” Lavrov also reiterated Russia’s insistence that Iran be invited to any peace conference.
Of greater concern is Russia’s warning that it would send a missile defense system to Assad in order to constrain “hot-heads” in the West.
US Preparing Plans For Syrian No-Fly Zone
The Obama administration has asked the Pentagon to begin developing plans for a no-fly zone within Syria and would be secured by US and European forces, The Daily Beast reports.
While the administration would not confirm any details, Sen. John McCain, who met with Syrian opposition forces last weekend, said the planning for a no-zone likely was instigated “because the pressure is so great, but we’re in a full-court stall until this conference in Geneva.”
No Consensus On Arming Syrian Opposition Forces
As McCain was meeting with representatives of forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the European Union agreed to lift an arms embargo on Syrian opposition forces. Although the embargo was lifted, there is no unanimity of opinion with regard to providing the opposition with weapons. Several nations, including the Netherlands and Sweden, have expressed doubt that Britain and France will be able to keep arms out of the hands of more radical Islamist elements.
The fears of radical elements gaining control of weapons are real. Over the course of the two-year civil war, the conflict has become increasingly globalized and dangerous.
Particularly in the last year, the war in Syria has drawn in more foreign entities, including Hezbollah and Iran. As Julia Amalia Heyer and Christoph Reuter write in Der Speigel, the war is threatening “to expand into a sectarian conflict beyond the country’s borders along the Middle East’s most tension-filled divide: the one running between Sunnis and Shiites.”
“The centers of conflict between the two major denominations of Islam, isolated until now in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, could be drawn into a wider conflict that would quickly engulf the entire region,” they add.
All Things Lead To June Peace Conference
The US and Russia are sponsoring a peace conference in Geneva in June, although the agenda and attendees remain uncertain. Russia has continued to insist – against the wishes of France – that Iran be included, while members of the Syrian opposition have not committed to attend either.
The Syrian National Coalition, which represents rebel groups, has not made a decision and is currently embroiled in an internecine argument with the Revolutionary Movement in Syria, an umbrella organization of activist groups from across the country.