Lengthy discussions between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna on Friday October 23 could not break the deadlock about the future of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
Lavrov and Kerry, who were meeting for the first time since Russia began military operations in Syria, were later joined by foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The extended talks centred around a possible resolution of the Syrian crisis and creating a broad anti-ISIS coalition.
Testing the ground for a big coalition
Lavrov’s statements indicate that the “quartet” is not Moscow’s preferred format for negotiations on Syria. Russia would like Iran, Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and other regional players to also be involved in the talks.
Lavrov also held talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Naseer Judeh, during which they agreed to coordinate military operations.
The Russian Foreign Minister called for negotiations between al-Assad and the "full spectrum" of the opposition, "both domestic and external, and with the active support of outside players."
Russian analysts see the talks as a measure of progress towards finding a solution to the Syrian crisis.
"It was clear that solutions will not be found during one meeting, but the differences are so great that even the fact that a meeting was held is a step forward,” said Yelena Suponina, head of the Centre for Asia and the Middle East at the Russian Strategic Studies Institute. “International players are testing the waters for a prototype of a possible international coalition."
The main sticking point still remains the political fate of the Syrian president. The most realistic option is to leave this topic out of the equation and focus on the fight against terrorism, Suponina says, adding that political will is required to solve “the problem of al-Assad.”
Whether U.S. President Barack Obama has the political will or not, is a big question, especially since the United States has now entered the pre-election season, she added.
An active election campaign is also underway in Turkey, where parliamentary elections will be held next week. President Tayyip Erdogan’s party is looking to form a parliamentary majority. Giving up his demand that "Assad must leave now," would suggest that Erdogan suffered a foreign policy loss.
“I cannot imagine a situation in which Erdogan, with his authoritarian style of government, will appear as a weak politician before his own electorate," said Leonid Isayev, an Arab scholar and senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics.
Given the fact that this is a prestige issue for many negotiators, it remains critically important to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, where no stakeholder loses face to a great degree.
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