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Kerry’s trial balloon on Syria was popped

The goal of John Kerry’s remark that he would be ready to negotiate with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was to test international reaction, a US scholar told DW. Since that test failed, the US keeps hoping for a miracle.

David Sylvan is a US foreign policy expert and professor of international relations at the Graduate Institute Geneva.

DW: What do you make of Secretary of State's Kerry remark and the confusion that it caused about Washington's policy on Syria?

David Sylvan: It was to some degree a trial balloon to see what happened. And to some degree it was simply a statement of fact. It was a trial balloon because of course it led to angry reactions, notably from the French. On the other hand, even the French basically say of course we actually have to deal with the regime.

I think they [the US] realize that there is absolutely no military solution. They are trying to peel off the portions of military of the existing regime. They are hoping that the military will jettison Assad. I think that is the current policy. That doesn't mean it is going to happen, or that they know how to proceed in doing that because there would have to be certain kinds of guarantees. And these guarantees would be close to impossible. I think this is what they are imagining what a solution would look like, but they don't know how to get there.

Prof. David Sylvan

Professor David Sylvan: US is just trying to contain the conflict

Do you consider this scenario a change in US policy towards Syria?

I think it's too early to tell, but I would doubt it is a change. The reason why I doubt is: What can they offer the regime to participate in talks? What they can offer the regime is a lack of punishment for some of the top people and the implication of the regime in some kind of transitional arrangement. The first is a non-starter. The second, I doubt that the opposition will go along with it. The only club they would have over the various opposition militias is to cut off military aid to them which they are obviously not going to do. So I see this all as a non-starter where they would like to do something, but really don't know how to do it. So they are more frustrated than anything else.

I suspect that there may also have been some sideline discussions regarding the United States and Iran. Because I am sure if you would lock some diplomats in the room they could figure something out. But it is just a political non-starter. There are too many bridges burned between countries like Turkey and France vis-à-vis Assad that anything could actually happen at this point.

What then is the US stance on Assad specifically?

I think the US position is still that he would have to go. I imagine if by some miracle he were to announce a deal with the opposition, they would say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we just have to accept it. But that was a trial balloon and that balloon has now been shut down.

So what does this mean for Washington's Syria policy?

Nothing changes. They are hoping for some kind of miracle. What they would really like to happen is that somehow or other the military splits, and that some members of the military join forces with some of the non-ISIS opposition and create some kind of political-military space in which there could be a new regime. That's what they would like. But they have actually no idea how to do that.

I think this was an attempt to encourage the military to split off. But if you are a military officer it is extremely risky to do something like that. I don't think there is any possibility that this could work because it would be denounced by so many other parties. So, I think they are just trying to contain the conflict and keep it at a lower level. They're hoping that the Iraq-Shia militias and the Kurdish forces will keep nibbling away at ISIS territory in Iraq. And if they can give some additional money and weapons to some of the non-ISIS forces, they are hoping they can have a de-facto partition. The problem is that the regime is not ready for a de-facto partition and neither is the opposition.

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