President Obama’s reversal of fortunes over Syria sparked Twitter posts from Washington to Moscow, as foreign policy analysts Tuesday tried to follow the latest twist in the accidental diplomacy at the White House.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s offhand comment Monday morning that Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international control turned into a formal proposal by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday afternoon. Mr. Obama suddenly stopped beating the war drums — just as he was facing a likely embarrassment in Congress, where opposition is strong against his call to arms to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for a gas attack on Aug. 21.
Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the development possible progress.
“I see it as a positive if the Russians are serious — and that’s a big ‘If,’” he said. “Will the Syrians cooperate, and will the Russians lean on the Syrians to cooperate?”
Mr. Crowley added that much depends on whether the scheme is adopted as a U.N. Security Council resolution that sets requirements on Syria to open its chemical weapons sites to international inspectors and to lead to the eventual destruction of the lethal stockpiles.
Ivo Daadler, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, tweeted that the Russian plan is worth considering, but added that “the threat of force remains [the] key to success.”
British Foreign Secretary William J. Hague viewed Moscow’s proposal skeptically, warning that Syria could be throwing up a “distraction.”
“Assad has consistently failed to match promises with actions,” he tweeted.
The Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations was so suspicious that it awarded its quote of the day to Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican: “The fear is it’s a delaying tactic and the Russians are playing us like a fiddle.”
In Moscow, Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, appeared to confirm Mr. Graham’s anxiety. He tweeted that the Russian proposal “knocks the ground from under Obama’s plans for military strikes.”
‘ABSURD AND DANGEROUS’
U.S. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson left Cairo with a fiery letter to the editor of Al Ahram, accusing Egypt’s largest newspaper of spreading “absurd and dangerous” lies in an article that accused her of conspiring with the ousted Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
“Good journalism checks facts, scrutinizes sources and offers viewpoints. This article isn’t bad journalism; it isn’t journalism at all. It is fiction, serving only to misinform the Egyptian public,” she wrote to editor Abdel Nasser Salama. “Your article’s claim that I personally am involved in a conspiracy to divide and destabilize Egypt is absolutely absurd and dangerous.”
Mrs. Patterson noted that Al Ahram is a state-owned publication and questioned whether the article published in August reflected the view of the military-backed government that took over after ousting Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July.
Al Ahram last week complained about her “mournful legacy” that she leaves to her successor after two years as U.S. ambassador in Egypt.