Is John Kerry Wasting Time With Quixotic Middle East Peace Push?

Little To Show for 100K Miles of Frantic Flying — So Far

Lone Ranger: Is John Kerry headed for failure in the Middle East?
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Lone Ranger: Is John Kerry headed for failure in the Middle East?

By Reuters

Published June 02, 2013.
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“It is a Lone-Ranger type of effort so far,” said Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.

“The perception in the region is this is a process of buying time … that the White House is not serious about committing to what it takes to get this issue resolved,” Muasher added.

“I don’t think people are questioning the motives of Kerry, everyone thinks he is serious about this - and he is serious about this - but he is just acting alone,” he said. “There is not even a Tonto, it is just him doing it alone,” he added, referring to the fictional Lone Ranger’s companion.

A senior U.S. official disputed the notion that Kerry was naive and said the Obama administration was prepared to abandon the effort if it judges that the Israelis and Palestinians are not serious about pursuing peace.

“That’s what shows he’s not naive,” said the official of Kerry’s willingness to pull back if he does not see both sides as ready. “There’s too many things going on in the world … You could bang your head on this for years and years and years.”

Rob Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank said that Obama’s legendary control over foreign policy decision-making meant Kerry must have had a White House green light to explore the Syria and Israeli-Palestinian initiatives.

“Clearly these approaches have been initiated and designed by Secretary Kerry,” Danin said. “But given the equities involved, it is inconceivable to think that he is freelancing.”

GOING THE EXTRA DIPLOMATIC MILE

Kerry appears to be attempting something equally ambitious in trying to end the Syrian civil war, which began as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government and has evolved into a full-scale sectarian conflict.

More than 80,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting, which has made millions of people homeless and begun to draw in regional parties such as Lebanese Hezbollah, which is fighting on the side of Syrian forces.

Efforts to try to address the conflict at the U.N. Security Council have been stymied by vetoes by Russia, which has a naval base in Syria and has backed Damascus with arms deliveries.

However, after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry announced in Moscow on May 7 that the United States and Russia would try to bring the warring parties to a peace conference.

Kerry initially said the conference could be held by the end of May, and then suggested it might happen in early June. There are now signals that it could slip until July, in part because of the difficulties the opposition has in unifying.

In the meantime, Assad has begun an offensive to capture the strategic town of Qusair in what many see as a bid to link territory from the capital Damascus up to his Alawite community’s heartland on the Mediterranean coast.

The move is widely seen as an attempt by Assad to try to strengthen his hand ahead of the peace conference.

On Kerry’s part, his push for the conference may in part be an effort to demonstrate that Washington has left no stone unturned in pursuing diplomacy before deciding whether to arm the Syrian rebels, a step Obama has so far resisted.

“It is entirely possible that Secretary Kerry realizes that the only way that he is going to affect the president’s calculations on arming the opposition is to first demonstrate that he has gone the extra diplomatic mile - and failed,” CFR’s Danin said.


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