Safra Shakir, Staff Writer
President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin met privately at the U.N. general assembly on September 28th to discuss the protests in Syria. The leaders clashed publicly at the meeting, adding an element of uncertainty to the growing crisis in the Middle East. The conference opened with a direct conflict of ideas. Obama reasserted that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad must eventually be removed from office, while Putin advocated the increase of his military’s involvement in the region.
President Obama stated after the formal talks that Russia’s plans for Syria were clear to him now. One of his senior officials commented that the aforementioned plan focused chiefly on fighting Islamic State militants. According to the official, the leaders have agreed to explore a political compromise to end the strife in Syria but have yet to come to an agreement on Assad’s future.
United States officials have expressed surprise at Putin’s more aggressive approach in Syria and more recently Iraq. Russia’s influence in the Middle East has increased in part due to its alliance with Iran. After cutting ties with the United States, Iran looked to Russia for trade and military assistance.
It appears that Iraq and Syria are following in Iran’s footsteps and turning to Russia as a main ally. Putin has been increasing his military significance in Syria – a move that could indicate a plan to safeguard Assad’s regime. In addition, Iraq recently revealed that it had signed an agreement that would share its intelligence with Iran, Russia, and Syria. A defense official added that Iraq would not oppose Russian surveillance flights.
The United States has adopted a less involved approach. While willing to share intelligence with Iraq, it has declined to do so with the other two countries. The United States’ reluctance to directly deal with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq has increased tensions on both sides.
Iraqi leaders are becoming frustrated with the United States’ hesitancy to launch airstrikes and have commented that this reluctance has reduced the air campaign’s effectiveness. This is evidenced by a statement from Naeem al-Aboudi, a spokesmen for a militia close to Iran.
“We wish that the Iraqi government wouldn’t trust or depend heavily on the U.S. because we’ve had a bad experience with the U.S. in this regard.” What new steps President Obama intends to take are unclear, but according to a senior official, he “came away from the meeting with new insight into the Russian President’s thinking in Syria.”