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US/Russia Summit Urgently Needed


US Russia

Now that Russia and China have warned the United States against militarily intervening on behalf of the Syrian rebels, the need for a separate superpower summit between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin is more urgent than ever.

The dangers of a super-collision over a Middle East crisis are greater than they have been in exactly 40 years since U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered all global U.S. military forces moved to an alert status of DefCon One to deter Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev from sending Soviet forces to intervene in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, or War of Ramadan, between Israel and Egypt and Syria.

Today, it is the United States, not the Soviet Union or Russia, which is gearing up to potentially plunge directly into a bloody Middle East conflict. On August 26, Russian presidential spokesman Alexander Lukashevich issued a statement warning, “Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa.”

Yet, also on August 26, it was the United States, not Russia that announced it was putting off a scheduled August 28 meeting at The Hague on Syria with Russian diplomats. And it was Russia that responded by expressing regret about that decision. The two sides had been due to meet in the Hague on Wednesday to discuss setting up an international conference on finding a political solution to the crisis.

Yet instead, we see Obama administration policymakers obsessively sticking to their simplistic, meaningless and extremely dangerous idee fixe of a “pause” in U.S.-Russia relations. They have forgotten Winston Churchill’s dictum that “jaw, jaw” is always better than “war, war.”

The idea that there is nothing constructive to discuss between Obama and Putin has become another obsessive fantasy of Washington policymakers and pundits. It is now almost impossible to find any quotable talking head who does not support it.

Yet the number of subjects where the United States needs to constructively engage Russia is long and urgent: Syria obviously heads it.

The emergence of the new, more moderate Iranian president offers a major opportunity to craft a new joint U.S-Russian initiative. Cooperation between the United States and Russia against Islamist terrorism, especially in Chechnya and Central Asia, could and should be rapidly expanded.

The two nations also need to work out a joint strategy to protect Christian communities in Egypt and Syria threatened by the upsurges in populist Islamist violence in both countries. Russia as an Orthodox Christian nation feels especial concern and there is much that the United States could do with it.

Since U.S. and NATO military forces within Europe are at such low levels, it also makes enormous sense in the U.S. and European interest to seek to defuse sources of tension and negotiate new informal understandings at least about security coordination and force levels on both sides in Europe.

The hard truth remains, as President Obama has previous acknowledged, that no serious international security problem can be solved without Russia. Now more than ever, with U.S. warships positioning to strike at Syria without UN Security Council resolution, it is more urgent than ever that the two nuclear superpower leaders need to urgently sit down and talk.

Moscow is definitely ready to do that and both Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yury Ushakov and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov have been rightly making exceptional efforts to send conciliatory signals to Washington. Both of them have repeatedly stressed that U.S. – Russia relations are too important and it would be impossible topush them intoa dead end.

Yet Washington clearly is not interested in talking to Moscow, and, moreover, in view of the grave escalation of the Syria conflict, Obama might actually skip the St. Petersburg G-20 summit completely, which would be another grave humiliation for Russia.

1,950 years ago, the Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Now, intoxicated their own ignorance and self-righteousness, a new generation of US policymakers and pundits are recklessly provoking the most dangerous East-West confrontation in the Middle East in 40 years. And they have no idea they are doing it.

Reprinted with permission.

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