Sunday, March 9, 2014

US Intel: 'The focus on Ukraine is allowing Assad to make substantial military gains"

'President Obama is trying to prevent Ukraine from becoming the single policy issue that defines his presidency. However, the perception is rising in the White House that, rightly or wrongly, the crisis has become a personal contest which can only be settled between Obama and President Putin.  NSC officials tell us that this is both an advantage in that it lends weight to the exchanges between the two men and a drawback in that it involves Obama more intensively in the management of the crisis than he would otherwise wish. This week he has attended for example to budgetary matters and to the Middle East Peace Process. However, with a visit looming to Brussels at the end of the month for EU and NATO meetings, the White House knows that all eyes are on the Ukraine crisis. As an NSC official commented to us: “Against all the odds, Obama continues to believe that he can do a deal with Putin. His telephone exchanges lead him to conclude that Putin is intent on building a position of strength from which he will then negotiate.” From talking to other high-level contacts in Washington, our sense is that Obama’s conviction that a deal is doable is not widely shared. Even in the State Department there are senior officials who are much less optimistic that Putin is interested in negotiating. The Pentagon is also skeptical, but its military moves in the Baltics and Black Sea should not, as a senior strategist there commented to us, be seen as preparations for belligerence (See Dempsey's comments). “We are supporting diplomacy, not undermining it,” was his comment. In summary, therefore, Obama remains committed to diplomacy but is facing rising discontent at home, with pressure increasing to be tougher. Ironically, in the P5+1 negotiations on Iran, Russian experts are taking part in ongoing exchanges with the Iranians alongside US officials. State Department official tell us that they remain cautiously optimistic that an end agreement is possible. On Syria, by contrast, Intelligence Community analysts are worried that the focus on Ukraine is allowing the regime to make substantial military gains. As one commented to us: “The price of maintaining Crimea in Ukraine may be losing Syria.” Obama is due in Saudi Arabia at the conclusion of his European visit, so attention is back to the mideast'

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