‘Obama must tell Turkey, Saudi Arabia & Israel enough is enough’ – former CIA officer

© Omar Sanadiki
Vladimir Putin has much more influence over Syria’s President Bashar Assad than the United States has over its allies in the region, and this could hinder the Syrian ceasefire, former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT.

Russia and the US agreed the terms for a cessation of hostilities in Syria. The ceasefire will start on February 27 at midnight Damascus time. ISIS, Al-Qaeda and many other terrorist organizations are not part of the truce.

RT: How optimistic are you about the agreement?

Ray McGovern: The good news is that the US has decided to cooperate with Russia and use their considerable influence and their considerable power to force this thing to stop. There are still considerable obstacles namely Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel. They are all allies of the US and the question is will Barack Obama be able to make good on his pledge for a ceasefire? Will he be able to rein in his allies? It is a little different on the Russian side. When we talk about Syria or Iraq and Iran and Hezbollah, I believe that Moscow has much more control over its allies than President Obama does. Will Turkey stop the infiltration of ISIS?

RT: What are the tools in Obama box, if you like, to make sure that people comply with the ceasefire?

RM: As we say in the United States, [Obama should] talk ‘turkey’ to them. In other words, to say – “enough is enough, we know what you’ve been doing, we can disclose even things that we have covered up for you, namely supporting the sarin attack outside of Damascus on August 21, 2013. We know that you’ve facilitated the sarin down to Syrian rebels. We’ve been covering up for you and now we will not do it anymore, unless you cooperate here and finally seal that border. If you decide to invade Syria, forget about NATO, forget about being part of NATO, because we want the Syrian conflict to stop and we know that you in large measure, together with the Saudis, are responsible for it continuing.”

RT: Do you think conversation would’ve been that frank between them?

RM: Well it depends who’s talking. If it’s the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland, I don’t think it will be that frank. If it is John Kerry, if it is President Obama talking to Erdogan, I believe [the conversation] will be that frank because their patience has worn out here and deservedly so. This thing has to stop. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people here, hundreds of thousands of refugees. The NATO allies want the refugee stream to stop and more has to be done with respect to quieting down things in Syria and a ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities, which will allow an exchange of locations of where the so-called ‘white hats’ - or the good guys – are so we don’t bomb them. But, by elimination we are able to go after ISIS, which after all is doing all it can to prevent this – witness the carnage in Homs and Damascus just yesterday.

RT: Isn’t it going to be very hard to uphold this ceasefire and disentangle everything on the ground?

RM: It will be difficult… Part of the problem is [locating] moderate rebels. Mr. Putin and Mr. Lavrov have asked several times: “please, just show us where your moderate rebels are and we won’t bomb them.” And the US has been slow to come up with those maps because in truth, as Obama himself admitted a year-and-a-half ago, moderate rebels in Syria is ‘a fantasy’ – his word. So al-Nusra, the people that we have been supporting, have pretty much folded in with them and given them their weapons.

It is going to be a little embarrassing for the US to admit that those moderate rebels are a fantasy. This time you have not only Lavrov and Kerry behind it, you have a telephone call announced by Mr. Putin where he says he and Obama have drawn on the experience of destroying all the chemical weapons in Syria, which was a big deal back in 2013. It remains to be seen whether the President of the US could exert enough influence on Turkey and on Saudi Arabia.

Why can’t we influence Saudi Arabia? This is why: A hundred billion dollars’ worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia accepted during the tenure of Obama. Only $50 billion have been approved – only $50 billion? When we talk about realities here, the US officials worry about offending the Saudis…

RT: How much people would trust the Assad government to abide by this? He has been making huge gains recently, hasn’t he?

RM: His [Assad] incentive depends on his reliance, his dependence on Russia. If Russia hadn’t intervened in September or October, he would not be where he is. In my view, Moscow has much more influence over Assad than Obama has over the Turks or Saudis, and they have, let’s face it, the fly in the ointment…

When you talk about the carnage that took place in Homs or Damascus just yesterday it will put the nail in the coffin. I think Obama will make a good try, it just remains to be seen whether he can convince the neocons in our government and make sure that Turkey understands, “look, it’s over, stop it!”

Out of the Lavrov-Kerry conversations came an agreement not only to de-conflict, in other words, make sure that our aircraft don’t run into each other, but to cooperate. That is what is happening now – the exchange of maps, the exchange of territories that is identified with real terrorist groups. That is a major step forward. I expect a lot of bumps on this road, but the good news is that the US and Russia have agreed to put their top people – their presidents - behind this initiative. If [Erdogan] tries something now in Syria, I believe that not only Russia, but the US and the rest of NATO – which pretty much follows the United States’ lead - will tell Erdogan to forget it, you’re a loose cannon, we want this thing to end and we want the refugees to stop coming.

RT: For this to end right, doesn’t everybody have to agree to what happens to Assad?

RM: Yes, eventually. I have heard a lot of things even today that Assad just couldn’t survive if there were elections Well that’s just Western propaganda. Assad still enjoys a huge majority of support amongst the people still left in Syria and that is an open secret amongst those who really know. And so if there are full and fair elections, say two years down the road, I don’t see how any democracy-espousing country could say: “well we are going to have elections, but Assad, you can’t run.” That has to be worked out; that is for the future. But right now, we have to look very closely at how Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel, which also has an interest here, and this is often neglected.

Two years ago, when it looked like Assad was making advances in early 2013, prominent Israeli officials were interviewed and they were asked by the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem “what is your preferred outcome in Syria?” They said something very shocking. They said something like “our preferred outcome, is no outcome. We see this as a play-off game where we do not want either side to win and we do not want either side to lose.” Why did they want the United States in; why did they try to mousetrap the United States by setting up a red line and then claiming it was Assad that perpetrated those sarin attacks? Because Assad was winning and they had to stop that. The best way to do that was to get the United States in overtly and US stature involved. The Israelis – and many others - do not want either side to win and that is a major factor because the Israeli influence amongst the neocons, who are largely running these policies, is immense in Washington.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.