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US warnings sound hollow as he prepares for Assad victory, experts say

US warnings sound hollow as he prepares for Assad victory, experts say

Washington – The United States seems resigned to the possibility of a final military victory by Syrian government forces, even when it warns Bashar al-Assad and Moscow to launch a major offensive in the rebel-controlled northwest, analysts say.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday accused his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, of “defending” the expected assault by Syrian forces backed by Russia in Idlib province, the scene of the last rebel stronghold and home to almost three millions of people.

“The United States sees this as an escalation of an already dangerous conflict,” Pompeo said on Twitter.

The American warning follows 10 days of harshly drafted exchanges between the Western powers on the one hand, and Syria and its Russian ally on the other, as well as Assad, reinforced by the crucial Russian air support since 2015, establishes its sites in Idlib.

Assad’s forces suffered serious setbacks at the beginning of the war, but Russian support has helped them regain control of 60 percent of Syria.

The United States, France and Britain, which together launched limited attacks on Syrian installations in mid-April in retaliation for a suspected Syrian chemical attack, say their red line against illegal use of weapons remains in force.

“As we have shown, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime,” they said in a joint statement on August 21.

John Bolton, national security adviser to the president of the United States, Donald Trump, similarly promised that the United States would respond “very strongly” to any chemical attack.

But Lavrov on Wednesday asked the West not to interfere in what he described as an “anti-terrorist operation” in Idlib, which borders Turkey.

In language that seemed to confirm the imminence of an attack, he called Idlib an “abscess (that) needs to be liquidated”, adding that it was necessary to minimize the risks to civilians.

– A “laissez-faire” approach –

Behind the scenes, US diplomats have been actively warning Moscow, which has been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons by its Syrian proteges.

But these “verbal warning shots” have little to do with the current reality in Syria, said Jonas Parello-Plesner, a researcher at the Hudson Institute in Washington, who recently published a study on the US approach to the region.

And that reality, he told AFP, is that “Assad advances on the ground, helped by Iran by land and Russia by air,” while the United States places its hopes in a UN-backed peace process that can best be described He said, as “dying.”

In the case of a new chemical attack, the Western powers could react again as they did in April, he said. But a new round of limited retaliation would not fundamentally alter the “military non-intervention approach of the US administration towards Syria.”

Trump said in April that “it’s time to” bring US troops home from Syria, once the jihadists of the Islamic State group have been definitively defeated.

While he quickly moved away from talks about an immediate withdrawal, his underlying determination to abandon Syria’s seven-year war as soon as possible seems not to have changed.

Faysal Itani, an expert from the Atlantic Council’s expert group, says he believes that “the United States has already effectively consented to the regime recapturing the rest of Syria.”

“There is no reason why they should oppose this in Idlib after accepting this in the south, Damascus, Aleppo, etc.,” he said, “and the regime and Russia understand it.”

“Then, the United States has no credibility or leverage in this.”

Once the issues are finally resolved on the ground, Itani said, the focus will return to diplomacy and efforts to achieve a political solution, as Washington wants.

“But by then,” he added, “there will be nothing to negotiate except to formally recognize the political realities, which in turn reflect the military realities that favor the Syrian regime.”

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