The Tillerson-Lavrov meeting and the roadmap for a political solution in Syria

Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 594, p. 41 on 02/09/2017

In a closed-door meeting, the foreign ministers of Russia and US gathered during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum in the capital of Philippines, Manila, earlier this month. The two ministers discussed in detail the political solution for the Syrian crisis. As a result of this meeting, the impact of the recent statements by officials from several Western countries was confirmed, particularly of the French Foreign Ministry who stressed that France has put the elimination of ISIS at the top of its priorities in Syria. Whether Assad will survive or not, is the Syrian people’s concern, he said. Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, while confirming during a press conference just a few days ago, that Britain was the first country to put Assad’s withdrawal as a prerequisite for reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis, is now seeing Assad’s survival in power has become a reality and must be managed. All these statements show that there is an agreement between Russia and America, which has influenced the governments of the European countries about the Syrian crisis.

A Western source informed me about the details of the Tillerson-Lavrov meeting in Manila, where the road map agreed in principle between the two sides was discussed and which I will present in detail below.

In a warm atmosphere, the Russian Minister began to explain the progress Moscow has achieved on Syrian territory in the “de-escalation areas” where there is a ceasefire between the Syrian armed opposition and the Assad militias in the northern part of the Homs province, to the east and south of Damascus and the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra. Lavrov also referred to the progress made by the Assad militias in central and eastern Syria against ISIS. The US side presented a map of the Syrian territory with an imprint of areas of influence. The map stipulates that the eastern part of the river Euphrates as well as the cities of Manbej and Tabqah will be under the control of the US-backed Kurdish militias and the western part of the river will be under the control of the Assad militias supported by Russia. The Russian side asked for more time to approve or reject the proposal.

Lavrov, on the other hand, put forward a comprehensive political solution map based on the following:

Firstly, the elimination of the ISIS terrorist organization in eastern Syria using both the Kurdish militias on behalf of the US side and the Assad militias on behalf of the Russians.

Secondly, a statement on a total ceasefire, including the entire Syrian territory, with the cooperation of all international and regional players involved in the Syrian crisis.

Third, a pre-transition phase lasting from six to eighteen months, in which Assad will remain President of the Republic, with the transfer of most of his powers to three vice-presidents – a Sunni, a Alawite and a Kurdish – who will ensure that the constitution is amended, that parliamentary elections are held and that the army and security services are changed.

Fourth, a transitional phase of six to eighteen months following the previous phase, during which Assad will remain in place until the presidential elections in which he can participate. After the election of the President, a new government will be formed, which will take over the country’s governance and reconstruction. The American response to this map was positive in principle.

After this meeting between Lavrov and Tillerson, which lasted nearly two hours, it is clear why the ministers of several European countries have changed attitude towards Assad personally, although he is responsible for the murder of at least half a million and the displacement of another eight million Syrian people. The most important question remains: Is this the justice that the international community evokes day and night?