The United States Opens Up to Assad: Spring of Diplomacy?

The week starts with the news from the Vatican which, after the massacre of Christians in Pakistan, wants a “fair” war against the perpetrators; and Secretary of State John Kerry, who is willing to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad in Syria while the nuclear treaty with Iran is at its final stage.

In a nutshell, the so-called “axis of resistance” (Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Hezbollah) is getting ready to get international recognition for its battle against the Sunni radicals of the Islamic State and the others groups of extremists and fanatics.

It’s no coincidence that the Vatican signed, along with Russia and Lebanon, a joint declaration supported by 63 countries for the defense of Christians and of the other minorities in the Middle East at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. In fact, the Vatican and Western chancelleries know that an intervention is in progress not only with coalition air raids but also with Shiite and Kurdish troops that have been fighting on the ground in Iraq and in Syria. Who are the friends and who are the enemies? The United States, if it signs the treaty with Tehran, is about to make a 90 degree turn in the Muslim world toward the Shiite axis, but at the same time is keeping privileged ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the pillars of their Middle East politics for the last 60 years.

If we remember that in 2013 Barack Obama wanted to bomb Syria, and Israel wanted to bomb Iran, we are facing a monumental change: at that time it was Putin and Pope Francis who stopped Washington; if they had intervened they would have left the field open to the Islamic State group and more radical Islamist groups so that today Caliph al-Baghdadi would have breakfast on Damascus’ ruins.

The old allies of the U.S. are getting less and less reliable, including Turkey, which is following now in NATO an eccentric trajectory: even if they just have signed an agreement with Washington to train a new Syrian army, Turkey keeps refusing to give air bases for the war against the caliphate and they even threaten to purchase Chinese missiles. The Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Premier Ahmet Davutoglu are responsible for having let thousands of jihadists throughout Syria go, and it is only now that they are reining in the flux that directly threatens Europe because of the return of foreign fighters.

The position of the Vatican is interesting: even if they keep the dialogue open with the Sunni world, it is with the Shiites that they made the best progress, as is shown with the recent visit to the Pope in the Vatican by Iranian Vice President Molaverdi. By an overwhelming majority, the Syrian and Lebanese Christians are with Assad, and they allied with the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which liberated Christian villages in Syria from radical Sunni groups. The Vatican is acknowledging a reality that they already knew very well but couldn’t be vocal about because of American pressure and a sort of ecumenical opportunism. “If Hezbollah didn’t stop the caliphate, they would already be at the door of Beirut,” said Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Boutros-Rai a few months ago.

In Iraq, Kurdish and Iranian troops, led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, are with the Christians to fight the Islamic State group and in Tikrit, a situation that the U.S. probably must favor while they are waiting for the pending offensive against Mosul. The repercussions in Libya are more complex: in Cyrenaica, Egypt supports General Khalifa Haftar and is backed by Russia and France. But that is also an interesting development: Moscow, through the Egypt of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has an important position in the Sunni world even if they are with Tehran, Assad’s major ally.

Well, it is how the world close to us is evolving: maybe a sort of “spring of diplomacy” has begun.

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