Nasrallah draws Hezbollah’s red lines on Russian initiative

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Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during a speech on July 25, 2014. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Nahed Hattar

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Body for Democratic Change and the People’s Will Party, there is emphasis on Geneva I as a guideline although it is outdated.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.

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.

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.

Comments

The removal of Qaddafi killed by the West has drawn the country in total chaos.
Unless a leadership figure emerged in Syria that the Alawites and other minorities trust, the forced removal of Bashar al Assad will create a worst situation that it is now. The army will collapse and the country will be at the mercy of militias, a new Libya.
Unfortunately the opposition leaders can hardly manage a circus least a country! They just elected a new clown as their 'president'.
Bashar al Assad is the sole real leader in Syria, whether his opponent want it or not.

This article is a joke. First of all, what right does a Lebanese militia leader have to dictate what happens in Syria? He needs to end his occupation before he can talk. Second, Daesh and JN represent the Sunni majority, unfortunately. They rightfully hate this butcher Assad. Russia has zero influence over them. No one does. Hizbollah is desperate to leave Syria. It has lost many of its terrorists and gained nothing. There is no question that with time Hizbollah will leave Syria. The Sunni Syrians will never leave. At best, Assad is the mayor or Damascus and a few cantons....for now. But the resistance to the Shiites and Alawis will ultimately win. The foreign invaders will leave. No one will bail out Hizbollah from its mistake. In fact, Lebanon is next.

Hah, a bigot? Maybe even a Zionist. Nice to hear such people's powerless curses. USA for them has 100% ME hegemony, and facts be damned

Essie I agree with your assertion that the fighting will continue for years to come, but it will be a war with JN and Daesh against the Syrian coalition government. This deal was a part and parcel of the Iran US nuclear negotiations.

The plan by UN Syria representative, Mr de Mistura, is DOA, aka Dead on Arrival. According to his plan which is a version of French/Saudi plan, President Assad can keep the military and other security ministries, but the opposition shall be given charge of the rest. According to him the opposition is, of course, none other than the so-called Free Syrian Army, the bunch that the US in 2011 armed and put together to oust President Assad.

But what about all other terrorists from tens of countries who are fighting on the ground in Syria, including from England, France, and even America? They certainly are not going to accept the deal, and will continue fighting. Hence, still no peace.

If you accept that those fighting the Syrian Arab Army are terrorists, then no one should agree to give them anything but hot bullets. Also, when it comes to Russia and its national interests, friend and enemies are the same; meaning you better watch Russia carefully when it comes to the issue of trust.

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