CFR’s Haass: Only ‘Optimist on Steroids’ Believes Syrian Ceasefire Will Hold

WASHINGTON – After six years of horrific bloodshed across Syria, President Donald Trump has invested presidential credibility towards negotiating a ceasefire with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in southern Syria. On Thursday, Trump emphasized that he is working on a second ceasefire in Syria: “If we get that and a few more, all of the sudden you are going to have no bullets being fired in Syria. And that would be a wonderful thing,” he asserted.

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and former top State Department official during the George W. Bush administration, expressed skepticism. In an interview with Jewish Insider, Haass noted, “You would have to be an optimist on steroids to think any ceasefire in Syria would hold given the number of parties involved and the stark differences in their agendas.” Haass noted the presence of Iranians, Turks, a multitude of Sunni militant organizations, and Assad regime. “There is nothing about the history in Syria to suggest that any ceasefire will hold,” he emphasized.

Turning to the President’s efforts to secure the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians, Haass argued for lowering expectations. “I would argue against any high profile mission designed to solve the conflict (and) emphasize economic development in the West Bank. I would work with the Israelis on placing some restraints on where they build settlements (and) focus a lot with the Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians on crisis prevention in Jerusalem.”

When asked what the Trump administration could do differently to achieve substantial progress on the diplomatic front, Haass said, “the short answer is very little. The situation is far from being ripe for progress. Anytime that is the case, there is a ceiling on what outside groups can accomplish no matter how many calories or hours they invest. I can’t think of anything that they could do that would make a meaningful difference given the state of Israeli-Palestinian politics.”

With the recent western victories against the Islamic State in Iraq, Haass emphasized that the key to preventing the reemergence of the terrorist group differs by country. “In Iraq, you have an army and a government. The problem in Iraq is the lion share of ISIS fighters were Iraqis and they will blend back into the population. The real challenge in Iraq is to set up a political process where over time Sunnis don’t get again alienated and support ISIS or an ISIS like entity. That’s a governing crisis and somewhat an economic challenge.” However, with Syria, he noted that Washington “can’t work” with the Assad regime in Damascus. “In Syria, the challenge is to find local entities you can partner with: Syrian Kurds and various Sunni groups who can exert local control.”

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