U.S., Russia must find common ground to bring an end to Syria’s civil war
The United States and Russia must try to find common ground to help bring an end to the civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 220,000 people and forced a massive number of people to flee as refugees.
On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first talks in about two years. On the Syrian issue, Obama expressed his view to call for President Bashar Assad to step down, stressing that stability in Syria would be impossible as long as the Assad administration stays in power.
Putin took a different tack and clearly expressed support for the Assad administration, describing it as a “bulwark” against extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has expanded its control over parts of Syria and Iraq.
The leaders of the United States and Russia have been at loggerheads over issues including the situation in Ukraine, but they did jointly recognize the importance of quickly wiping out ISIL. However, they remain far apart in their views on whether the Assad administration should be allowed any involvement in Syria’s future.
A chaotic civil war including the military forces under the control of the Assad administration and several antigovernment organizations continues for more than four years. The vacuum of power in parts of Syria has helped promote the growth of extremist groups, including ISIL. Assad’s army is at a disadvantage against its enemies, and the government now controls only about one-quarter of Syria, mainly in the west of that nation.
Dealing with the Syrian issue, from where the threat of terrorism is proliferating, is an urgent task.
Tricky diplomatic path
At a press conference after his talks with Obama, Putin criticized airstrikes conducted by nations such as the United States and France against ISIL targets to weaken that group, saying they were “illegal” because they had not been requested by Syria.
Russia has started airstrikes of its own to support the Assad administration. Moscow has set up an air base inside Syria and deployed fighter jets and tanks there. It has dispatched military advisers to Syria and will exchange strategic information with Iran and Iraq, which are close to the Assad government.
Russia is attempting to prop up the Assad government under the name of building an “antiterrorism coalition” that adds Syria and Iran to the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing.”
If the Russian military intervenes under the banner of trying to prolong the Assad government for as long as possible, while disregarding the numerous atrocities committed by the administration, the fighting in Syria could actually escalate. There are fears an accidental clash could occur with the United States and France.
Obama was quite right to strongly oppose this step by Moscow. It is obvious that the Assad administration lacks legitimacy.
The United States has been providing military training to moderate Syrian antigovernment groups as it seeks to topple the Assad government and defeat ISIL. However, these efforts have not produced tangible results. Obama’s strategy has reached a deadlock.
The United States also cannot resolve this problem just by demanding that Assad step down. In Europe, which is being directly affected by the flood of arriving refugees, there is an emerging opinion that negotiations with Assad also might be unavoidable.
Pressing ahead with diplomacy that curbs any increase in the strength of ISIL while also anticipating a transition to a new regime − this will be a difficult process, but unless the United States and Russia, the two major powers, act in concert, the situation in Syria will not improve.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 1, 2015)Speech
Steadily conduct territorial talks with Russia to work out solution
Negotiations for signing a bilateral peace treaty and the resolution of the northern territorial issue are inseparable.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held summit talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in New York, their first meeting in about 10 months.
On the northern territorial issue, Abe and Putin confirmed that the two governments will proceed with negotiations on the peace treaty based on a 2013 bilateral agreement that the two countries will “work out measures to resolve the issue acceptable to both sides.” They also agreed to continue holding top-level dialogues on the sidelines of international conferences.
It is highly significant for both countries to put the territorial negotiations back on track.
With regard to Putin’s visit to Japan, Abe said, “I want to realize it [the visit] when the timing is best,” indicating that he does not feel bound to the plan for Putin to visit by the year-end.
Now that there is no prospect for any tangible result on the territorial issue, it will not be necessary for Abe to adhere to the idea of realizing Putin’s visit to Japan this year, even at the cost of being out of step with the Group of Seven industrialized countries, which have imposed sanctions on Russia in light of the situation in Ukraine. Abe’s decision was appropriate.
Saying that he has recently been reelected president of the Liberal Democratic Party, Abe indicated his willingness to proceed with bilateral talks by saying he would deal with the negotiations more steadily than ever before. Abe will serve three more years as president of the ruling party, while Putin will remain in office for the same length of time.
The administrations of both Abe and Putin have solid foundations, and the two leaders enjoy a certain level of trust. It can be said that the environments needed for them to resolve such a politically difficult problem as the territorial issue have been put into place to a certain extent, such as the political leadership keeping the domestic opposition at arm’s length and there is sufficient time to deal with it.
Hard-line stance intolerable
Putin, however, refrained from going deeply into the territorial issue this time. At the onset of the talks, Putin called for Japan’s economic cooperation, by saying, “Regrettably, the value of trade [between Japan and Russia] has been falling.”
Probably underlying his remarks is the serious decline in the state of Russian economy, which has been affected by the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union and falling crude oil prices.
Abe said, “I hope preparations for economic cooperation will be made in a constructive and calm atmosphere,” implicitly warning that visits to the northern territories by Russian government officials, including Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, would impede any improvement in the bilateral relations. It is a reasonable acknowledgment on Abe’s part.
The recent hard-line stance of the Russian Foreign Ministry on the territorial issue is intolerable.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that Japan should recognize the reality of postwar history. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov even said that the northern territories were lawfully transferred to his country as a result of World War II.
Russia, in diplomatic documents exchanged with Japan, has recognized the existence of the dispute concerning the possession of the four northern islands. As Russian officials, including Lavrov, have adopted stances that apparently ignore past bilateral negotiations, it will be important for Japan to directly approach Putin, who has tremendous political power.
On Oct. 8, vice ministerial-level talks on the peace treaty will resume. Japan needs to work out a comprehensive diplomatic strategy toward Russia by thoroughly considering what things will be like two to three years from now.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 30, 2015)