Letter From the Editors: May 1 - 14, 2017

The Art of the Possible: Can Russia, Turkey, Iran and America Play Nice in the Peacemaking Game?

In this Digest’s first feature, military analyst Andrei Akulov exclaims with jubilation: "What seemed to be unbelievable has finally happened! A pipe dream has come true! For the first time in six years since the Syrian conflict began, light is visible at the end of the tunnel.. .. On May 4, Russia, Turkey, and Iran signed a memorandum calling for the establishment of safe zones in Syria during peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan." These zones are located in Idlib and Homs Provinces, the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta, and the southern part of the country. They will be patrolled by military forces of the three guarantor states and others; and checkpoints around them will be guarded by rebel soldiers and government troops.

Akulov’s reaction may seem a tad hyperbolic: After all, the Syrian settlement process has seen several ceasefire plans, including one brokered in the same city, Astana, in January. But there are indeed significant differences this time around. For one, representatives from both the Syrian government and opposition groups were closely involved in negotiations. What’s more, for the first time, an American official was present: Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones.

Although Washington officially endorsed the plan before, during and after its preparation, it still raised questions in some quarters. For example, several days after the memorandum was signed, Defense Secretary James Mattis fired off a series of questions at a press gathering in Copenhagen: "Who is going to be ensuring [that the zones] are safe? Who is signing up for it? Who is specifically to be kept out of them?"

Yevgeny Shestakov surmises that the Trump administration is nervous about being left out of the game. His sources report that the Syria plan was a key part of the agenda ...

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