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Friday, December 26, 2014

Nasrallah draws Hezbollah’s red lines on Russian initiative

Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during a speech on July 25, 2014. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi
Published Friday, December 26, 2014
What is the Russian initiative? What is its nature and limits? What does it have in common with the initiatives and ideas being promoted regionally and internationally behind the scenes? And what did Hezbollah’s secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, tell Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in their meeting earlier this month?
The Russian initiative seems ambiguous, but perhaps its ambiguity is intentional, allowing its participants a chance to reverse course. For the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change and the People’s Will Party, there is emphasis on Geneva I as a guideline although it is outdated. Whereas the supporters of dialogue within the Syrian National Coalition insist that a solution is conditional on the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is a condition that is being proposed by the Saudis with a list of enticements such as accepting the entire structure of rule in Syria, constitutionally, politically, militarily and in terms of security as long as Assad steps down.
On the other hand, Cairo, Amman and other capitals, including some Gulf capitals, are discussing ideas that acknowledge Assad’s presidency and suggest transferring some of the powers of the president to a national unity government while keeping defense, security and foreign affairs powers with the president.
There are a number of proposals being made for a political solution in Syria that mix between what is possible, desirable and pure analysis. However, there is a common basic element, namely, parties are moving towards a political solution in 2015 and they are looking at the course opened up by the Russians as a suitable framework for negotiations. Against this backdrop, parties are hoping to drag Moscow into making certain concessions to reach a solution, especially that the sanctions, the anticipated and artificial drop in the price of oil and the Ukrainian crisis are factors that exert pressure on Russia which might be tempted with less than a perfect victory in Syria.
Within the Russian foreign affairs triangle – Russian President Vladimir Putin, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and his deputy Mikhail Bogdanov – there is a difference in the tone of the Russian proposal about Syria. Putin, who makes the final decision, is decisive not only in his unlimited support for the Syrian regime but his unambiguous recognition of Assad as a legitimate president who came to power after credible elections showed that most Syrians support him. This officially-stated position settles the debate about the limits of the Russian initiative. However, parties that communicate with Lavrov or Bogdanov might interpret Lavrov’s diplomatic language or Bogdanov’s negotiating hints in different ways depending on their interests and vision. One of these hints is testing the waters and determining the limits and possibilities within the Resistance axis.

[F]or the Russians, Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, has become the go-to man to get to the heart of the matter without frill.

Despite the growing alliance between Moscow and Tehran and their discussions about supporting Damascus, economically and militarily and about the problems of a political solution in Syria, for the Russians, Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, has become the go-to man to get to the heart of the matter without frill. There are three main reasons for this. First, talking to Nasrallah is talking with a man of resistance not a man of diplomacy and with a politician known for his credibility. Second, Nasrallah is a common ally to Damascus and Tehran and has therefore privileged knowledge. Third, Hezbollah is a major force in the war on terror in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon which makes it a prominent partner in any future vision for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
On December 5, Nasrallah received Bogdanov who had toured the area, learned about the different positions, surveyed the various visions and found it useful to discuss what he knows with Hezbollah’s secretary general, including what he personally and the Russians heard about positions towards Assad.
Nasrallah told Bogdanov without the slightest ambiguity that we are waging a battle against terrorism in defense of Syria, the Syrian state and its strategic choices but at the same time, “we are waging a battle for the president.” There is no solution without the president. Assad is a red line.
Why? How would it hurt the Resistance axis and the Syrian state at its heart if “everything” is preserved in return for, say, shortening the term of the president?
One, Assad was always a resistance leader but today, after four years of war, he has turned into a symbol for the Resistance and its axis, a symbol that holds great moral value that can not be bartered in a political solution deal. Two, Assad, in his person and with his symbolism and the direction he took represents the epitome of the Syrian state and a leader capable of managing the war on terror. Third, Assad is a symbol for Syrian unity. He can not be counted on behalf of a religious, sectarian, regional or even partisan side, therefore it is unacceptable to discuss the president and a political solution in Syria in these terms. Four, his experience since the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, Washington’s threats against him with the armies of aggression and Iraq’s fate if he does not abandon the strategy of standing up to the West and Israel, his insistence on maintaining the relationship with Iran, supporting Arab resistance movements, standing up to boycott and siege since 2005, standing up against the Israeli aggression on Lebanon in 2006, Gaza in 2009 and finally in leading the Syrian war on terrorism since 2011 secured his place not only as president of the Syrian Arab Republic but of the resistance forces and their supporters in the region.
After a long meeting between Bogdanov and Nasrallah, three red lines set the contours of the Russian initiative. These red lines are the Syrian state and its strategic choices, the Syrian Arab army and Assad.

The initiative, after all, is a Russian need to provide a political cover for the increasing economic and defense support that the Kremlin has committed to since 2011 and nothing more.

Within these contours, Moscow is offering a table for dialogue over everything else, a dialogue with no conditions or guidelines, neither Geneva I nor anything else, and no suggestions that violate these red lines or that undermine Syrian sovereignty and are considered an interference in Syrian affairs.

The initiative, after all, is a Russian need to provide a political cover for the increasing economic and defense support that the Kremlin has committed to since 2011 and nothing more. This does not mean that the patriotic parties are excluded. On the contrary, these forces with their programs and the direction they have taken are needed to consolidate Syrian unity in the face of terrorism and advance the process of reconstruction. However with the decline of forces on the ground for the benefit of terrorist groups, reconciliation with political parties and intellectuals, as important as it is, has no realistic meaning on the ground. What is left is the two paths set by Assad. The first is fighting terrorism until it is eradicated and the second is reconciliation with Syrian fighters on the ground to avoid further bloodshed and to unify efforts along the first path. Naturally, the Syrian-Syrian dialogue will be of great significance as a third path that consolidates the unity of patriotic and social forces towards overcoming the crisis and winning the war.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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