Sick, many experts say that President Obama did not intend to attack Syria but as he had already stated that the red line in Syria is the use of chemical weapons, he was actually forced to act the way he did. Who do you think wanted the US to attack Syria and why?
Gary Sick: I think we know very well who saw it as an opportunity. Clearly the Gulf monarchy states,Saudi Arabia, Qatar, for instance, who are supporting the rebels and also the opposition forces clearly saw this as something that will work to their advantage. They understood that a US attack on the Assad government would help them in their fight against that government, so they definitely wanted it. Turkey would have been very happy with it. But the American people were not happy about it, and there was really no support for the idea in the international community. I think what happened in reality was that, whether Obama really wanted to do it or not, the direct threat of a military action in fact made things happen.It frightened Assad, it certainly frightened the Russians, and I think, to some degree, it frightened Iran. And I think there is a much greater willingness today to consider alternative solutions than there was before. So, whatever the original idea was, it has actually moved the process forward. The framework agreement that was negotiated yesterday between Secretary Kerry and Mr. Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is in fact a tremendous achievement.The agreement says that if Syria does not do away with its chemical weapons, Russia is prepared in advance to say that they will accept the Chapter 7 Resolution against Syria; Chapter 7 is the UN chapter involving the use of force.So this is an illicit treatment, but in fact brings the Russians together with the United States on the fact that if Syria does not cooperate, they are prepared to potentially agree to the use of force. I do not think we can say this was all planned in advance, but the sequence of events has moved the situation in what I would regard as a very positive direction, and I think we have to be very pleased with that. I think Iran should be pleased, I think Russia should be pleased; although the people in the United States who really wanted to go to war, and the people in Syria who wanted the United States to come and attack on their behalf are very disappointed, and we are going to hear a lot of complaints from them. But in reality, if we are interested in a peaceful solution, this has moved very far in that direction, and I think it really is quite an achievement.
NE Reporter: Following the Russian proposal and the US response, we now hear a lot of complaints from Israelis and also from the opposition groups.Do you not think that these people would be able to pressure President Obama not to accept the Russian proposal?
Gary Sick: No. The Russian proposal has already been accepted. They have negotiated it in Geneva—that is not an issue.And indeed, as I said, Israel to some degree, and certainly the opposition in Syria, they wanted the United States to attack because it would in fact serve their purposes. But, form my point of view, the United States should make decisions based on its own national interest, not on the interests of other parties. So, in my view, a peaceful settlement, as is disputed over the chemical weapons use, is far preferable to the use of force. Both of them, whether the peaceful settlement or the use of force, are really unpredictable in terms of where we’ll go from here and what will happen, but I would prefer, under the circumstances to take my chances, the peaceful settlement rather than a military settlement.
NE Reporter: What do you think is the next step? And what does this Russian proposal lead to? If everything goes as agreed between Russia and the United States, would this end the conflict in Syria, or is this only about whether or not to attack Syria?
Gary Sick: No, no. I do not see this as a solution to the Syrian civil war. In the best of all possible worlds, that might happen that if Syria cooperates with the international community in getting rid of its chemical weapons that might in fact begin the process of a negotiation that would ultimately lead to some kind of a settlement for the civil war. But I think that is asking a great deal.The next step would be putting inspectors on the ground to actually go and identify the sites where chemical weapons are being stored, and where they are being made. The agreement says that the first thing we would do is destroy the equipment that makes the chemicals. So rather than goingto the bombs and missile warheads at the beginning, the first they will do is destroy the equipment that actually mixes those chemicals and puts them into the warheads.And I think from a technical point of view that is a very intelligent way to go about it. The one thing that is missing from this agreement, that I think is very important, any identification of who will protect the inspectors when they are actually on the ground in Syria in the midst of a civil war. I think that is a very open question and I assume that that would be one of the key issues that will be discussed at the United Nations Security Council.
NE Reporter: A few days ago a letter was published by 12 former US intelligence agents who claim they have evidence showing that the chemical attack was not done by the Syrian government, and that the British intelligence community knew all about the story.What do you think about the role of Britain in Syria?
Gary Sick: There have indeed been several organizations and several analysts who have said there are some doubts about the use of chemical weapons, and who did it. Increasingly it appears that even Russians are, although they do not say so publicly, quite ready to accept that President Assad was involved or his government was involved in this attack. And I believe that those questions that were raised by the intelligence professionals and others are in fact being overcome in time, and that more and more people are in fact accepting the US intelligence statement, which is that the Assad government in fact carried out this attack itself.
NE Reporter: What do you predict will happen in the coming months in Syria?
Gary Sick: I would not begin to make a prediction about what is going to happen. Even if one week ago you would ask me if we would have an agreement between the Russians and the Americans to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons, I would have said, "That is impossible!That could not possibly happen!”And it did, and it all happened in less than a week. So I suspect that we are going to be very surprised by what happens next. I think Syria will try to bargain very hard to try to turn this to its own advantage, and basically to try to undercut the opposition. I suspect that they will have limited success doing that but they are certainly in a position where they can try. The other thing we can wholly predict, presuming that this agreement goes to the Security Council where it is supposed to go, then the discussion will take place in the Security Council. We do not know how that discussion will go, we do not know what will be done, as I say, to protect any inspectors who go to Syria. There is a lot of unanswered questions and there are many many twists and turns in the way this is going. So I would not make a prediction.
NE Reporter: Today and shortly after Russia and the United States reached their agreement, France said that they would continue arming and supporting the opposition in Syria. How do you describe the role countries such as Britain and France play in the Syrian crisis?
Gary Sick: Actually, there are many many countries involved, certainly Britain and France. France, of course, has a very particular interest in this case because originally Syria was a French mandate, and so they have always retained that relationship with Syria although in recent years they have certainly not been a dominant factor. But actually their role, it seems to me, is not as important as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, or Iraq for that matter, where you have many forces that are either supporting or opposing President Assad and his government. All of those forces are in fact involved, and in many cases the ones who are supporting the rebels and are providing arms to them will keep this thing alive. I think in the short term they are going to continue providing weaponry to the opposition simply to show President Assad that if he backs away from his agreement this may work to his disadvantage. So this is a point of leverage that I think will be sustained. In the long term if the process actually works, and if there is some kind of an agreement over the chemical weapons, I think there is a real opportunity that the arms to the opposition will begin to dry up. But in the short term it seems to me this is very likely to continue as it has in the past.
NE Reporter: There are,as you said, many countries involved in the Syrian crisis;countries such as Saudi Arabia, France, and Britain. Sometimes you see these countries act in a way that is not always in line with US policies. Do you think this is a game orare they following their own separate policies?
Gary Sick: Each of these countries has its own policy in this area. Those policies, for instance, the policy of Saudi Arabia in supporting certain factions in Syria in some cases is exactly the same as the United States’ position because we have been supporting those factions too. Saudi Arabia, or at least forces in Saudi Arabia, provide support to some of the groups that we do not support. So there are real differences. I think Turkey would like us to take a more active role than we have in the past, and I think they are pushing the situation faster than we particularly would choose to move. But on the other hand, they do not go too far out on the part of the United States, and they continue to coordinate their policies. Jordan is cooperating very closely with the United States, and Jordan is absorbing a huge number of refugees that are coming across the border. This should be something quite familiar to Iran. In the Afghan invasion, people came flooding across the border, with the Taliban first and then with the US military involvement, huge numbers of people came flooding across the border into Iran, and that problem has actually remained through all these years since the attack. Jordan is facing exactly the same thing. There are something like two million refugees now that have been created in Syria. This is an enormous number for a country that size. Even if the fighting stops tomorrow, still there would be a huge residue of problems that exist, and the countries in the region are all involved in this, Lebanon, Turkey, certainly Jordan, Iraq. Every country in the region is involved in this problem in one way or another,either as supporting part of the opposition or absorbing the overflow of refugees coming out of the country. It is a very ugly situation. And I wish I could say that this slightest agreement is the first step to a settlement of the civil war. That seems to me a hopeful view, but that is one that I cannot really support at this point.
* Gary Sick, is an American academic and analyst of Middle East affairs, with special expertise on Iran, who served on the U.S. National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan.
Interviewer: Mostafa Afzalzadeh