Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Administration officials are especially concerned at the potential Russian response on Syria"

'As we have been reporting for some weeks, President Obama’s instinctive reluctance to involve the US as a direct participant in the fighting in Syria has come under increasing pressure not just from well-known Congressional hawks but from nearly all his senior foreign policy advisers. As one State Department official put it to us, “the President found himself in a minority of one – a powerful position but nonetheless uncomfortable.” Recent advances by regime forces together with unremitting pressures from close NATO allies have brought the debate to a head. Our sense is that Obama remains deeply unconvinced that US intervention is a good option – he left the announcement of the decision to supply limited arms to the Syrian opposition to a member of the National Security Council staff. However, he sees merit in the argument that for a diplomatic solution to be viable, the opposition must remain a credible military entity. The message he will be bringing his G8 colleagues when they meet in Northern Ireland on June 17th/18th is that the US decision on arms should be viewed strictly in the diplomatic context, not as a vote in favor of a particular outcome. Administration officials are especially concerned at the potential Russian response on the ground and at potential Chinese moves at the UN. One additional by-product of the decision is that, because the arms will need to be supplied via Turkey, the US criticism of Prime Minister Erdogan’s crack down on demonstrators will moderate. The outcome of Iranian presidential elections may be a factor. Observers in Washington have tended to dismiss the election as a sideshow given that ultimate decision-making resides with the Supreme Leader. However, if the election produces an unexpected outcome in the form of a potentially less intransigent Iranian president, there will be voices – albeit tentative ones – in Washington suggesting some form of outreach to Tehran. Finally, Administration officials have told us that in hindsight the outcome of the summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping is looking less productive than at first hoped. One NSC official commented to us: “it was a routine meeting, rather than a breakthrough.”

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