The apparent acceptance by Russia and Syria of Secretary of State John Kerry’s ad hoc proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control — and thus avoid a U.S. military strike – took almost everyone by surprise. After more than two years of torturous diplomacy with the Assad regime, diplomats can be forgiven for suspecting that the acceptance may be little more than a delaying tactic meant to rob the Obama administration of what little momentum and support it had gathered for a military option, both in Congress and internationally.
One person who has had extensive dealings with Assad, and seen similar delaying tactics first-hand, is Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, who until recently was the prime minister of Qatar.
“Remember that what happened in Syria started out as not as a revolution, but with peaceful protesters asking for a few reforms, and on the first day 160 of them were killed,” al-Thani said at a Brookings Institution conference earlier this year. “I went to see Assad and we had a long conversation. He promised to give an important speech to his parliament, and instead he cracked jokes as if nothing was happening, while blood was running in the streets! He agreed to meet with the opposition, and we saw that too was a joke to him! Other promises were made and not kept. As chair of the Arab League we took the matter up with our friends and tried to solve it by sending a monitoring team to Syria to try and talk to him. And finally we concluded that Bashar al-Assad was just buying time to execute his one true strategy, which is to kill, and kill, and kill until he wins.”