On Tuesday 27th December 2016 Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Secretary of State Kerry had their 70th telephone conversation of 2016.
That means that Lavrov and Kerry have spoken to each other by telephone most weeks and sometimes more than once a week throughout the year. This is on top of the seemingly endless number of times they have met with each other.
It is difficult to imagine a more intense degree of interaction between the two senior diplomats of two rival powers.
It is also impossible to imagine a more sterile interaction, one more barren of achievement.
Though Lavrov and Kerry have spoken to each other so often, and though they have engaged in hours and days of negotiations with each other throughout 2016, the only two agreements they ever reached – both over Syria, the first in February and the second in September – both immediately unravelled.
At one level the intensity of interaction between Lavrov and Kerry shows again the nonsense of US President Obama’s boast that he has isolated Russia and turned it into a pariah state. So far from that being the case, the most active diplomat engaging with the Russians throughout 2016 was no less a person than his own Secretary of State!
That all this frantic diplomatic activity has achieved precisely nothing, so that Obama leaves the Presidency with all the issues between the US and Russia unresolved and with relations between the two countries as bad as they have ever been, is also ultimately US President Obama’s fault. He has repeatedly sent Kerry to talk to Lavrov without making clear the extent of Kerry’s mandate, and without giving Kerry the clear instructions and the unqualified backing that any high-level negotiator in Kerry’s position needs.
The result is that more often than not when Kerry did meet Lavrov the proposals he took with him were completely unrealistic and obviously unacceptable to the Russians. On the rare occasions when he did achieve agreement, the agreement had to be renegotiated all over again with the hardliners in the Washington bureaucracy as soon as he returned home. Since Kerry never had Obama’s unqualified backing it was inevitable this would happen, since by definition any agreement he reached which was acceptable to Moscow was bound to be unacceptable to the hardliners in Washington. Needless to say that all but guaranteed that in the absence of Obama’s unqualified backing whatever agreements Kerry brought back with him to Washington immediately unravelled.
In saying this the point must also be made that in pitting themselves against Lavrov Obama and Kerry found themselves up against the most skilled and accomplished diplomat in the world today. Moreover unlike Kerry, who has never enjoyed Obama’s complete confidence, Lavrov has Putin’s unqualified support and confidence. Though the record of their meetings shows that Putin and Lavrov meet rarely, they obviously coordinate closely with each other, with Lavrov getting from Putin clear instructions, and Putin in return getting from Lavrov clear advice.
The result is that though Lavrov went into every negotiation with Kerry knowing exactly what he wanted, the same never seemed to be true of Kerry. Instead one always got the impression of a Secretary of State who was making it up as he went along, and who could never in the end deliver.
The result is that eastern Aleppo has been lost whereas with a better strategy it might have been saved, the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo have been comprehensively defeated where they might have been withdrawn intact, and the US now finds itself at risk of being entirely excluded from the negotiations to settle the conflict in Syria, with the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians talking directly to each other without the US.
Though neither Obama nor Kerry have been prepared publicly to face up to the fact, it is a record of unrelieved failure and defeat. Unsurprisingly it has provoked a flood of critical and sometimes angry commentary in the Western media, with much finger pointing and recrimination, but little in the way of clear thinking and proper answers.
As to the subject of their latest telephone conversation, the Russian Foreign Ministry has provided a detailed report, which is being summarised by TASS.
On Syria Lavrov was in schoolmasterly form, lecturing Kerry on the inadmissibility of supplying arms to the Jihadis, and pointedly reminding him that the focus of negotiations has now moved to the tripartite format involving Russia, Turkey and Syria, from which the US is excluded
The parties discussed the ways to settle the Syrian crisis in the light of the agreements reached at the recent trilateral meeting between the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers, aimed at ensuring ceasefire across Syria and stepping up the war on terror. Lavrov pointed out that if Washington eased restrictions on arming Syrian rebels, so that portable air defence systems could be provided to them, tensions may increase as well as the death toll.
On bilateral relations Lavrov pointedly reminded Kerry that it was the US not Russia which was responsible for the downturn in relations between the two countries, and which bears responsibility for the consequences.
Touching on bilateral relations, the Russian minister once again stressed the inadmissibility of the Barack Obama administration’s course to further undermine the basics of normal cooperation between Russia and the United States.
It was Lavrov’s comments to Kerry about US misuse of the UN Security Council in the context of the Arab-Israeli dispute which are by far however the most interesting
The two top diplomats exchanged views on the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement and around it. Lavrov stressed the necessity of creating conditions for direct talks between the leaders of Israel and Palestine and warned against bringing US’ domestic agenda into the work of the Middle East Quartet and the United Nations Security Council. He stressed that attempts to use these formats in bickering between the Democrats and Republicans are harmful,
(bold italics added)
Yesterday in an article for The Duran I pointed out that Resolution 2334, which the Obama administration allowed to pass through the UN Security Council and which it almost certainly itself engineered, and which has reaffirmed the Occupied Territory status of east Jerusalem, was actually targeted at Donald Trump, and was not an attempt to advance the cause of Middle East peace but was rather an attempt by Barack Obama to embarrass Donald Trump and to tie his hands in his future dealings with Israel.
Lavrov’s comments to Kerry show that the Russians think the same thing, and find it every bit as objectionable as I do. Why else would Lavrov be warning the Obama administration through Kerry against bringing “the US’s domestic agenda into the work of ……the United Nations Security Council” whilst scolding them for using “these formats in bickering between the Democrats and the Republicans” which is “harmful”?
Kerry is reported to be depressed at the way Lavrov has comprehensively bested him in the many hours of negotiations that have taken place between them. As a US official representing a US administration which still remains committed to the doctrine of US Exceptionalism, he must also find lectures of the sort he has just received from Lavrov utterly infuriating. It is however the mismanagement of foreign policy by the Obama administration, of which as Secretary of State Kerry was an important part, that has brought him to the point where he has to listen to these lectures.
Suffice to say that the fact that Kerry soon won’t have to speak to Lavrov again, and won’t have to fear being bested by Lavrov again or having to listen to any more of Lavrov’s lectures, might be the one thing that makes him look forward to his coming retirement.