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Kerry's Syrian Quagmire

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
May 31, 2013
Foreign Policy

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Even as Secretary of State John Kerry pushes for all parties in the Syrian civil war to gather around a table in Geneva, he was forced to implore his supposed partners in peace to refrain from taking steps that could worsen the bloodshed. On May 31, he called on his Russian co-hosts in the talks to hold back from delivering advanced missile systems to the Syrian government. Delivery of the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system, said Kerry, was "not helpful."

Yet the move from the Russians is only the latest signal that peace talks between the Syrian opposition and President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which the United States hopes to hold in July, face slim odds at best. Many in Washington are already wagering that political and military realities will overtake the diplomatic overture Kerry announced early this month. The secretary of state's plans received another blow on May 30, when the Syrian opposition said it would boycott talks so long as Hezbollah forces were fighting alongside the Syrian military and "massacres" were occurring.

"The opposition is in no place tactically or politically to enter into Geneva right now, so they should not be pushed," said one State Department official, who referred to the timing of the talks as a "mystery." "It is a long shot to get them there -- and if we get them there I think it will further divide the opposition."

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