Can the U.S. and Russia agree on how to end Syria’s war?

Tony Karon writes: Beleaguered U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan will host an international conference to address Syria‘s rapidly escalating civil war, but the meeting in Geneva on Saturday appears to have only lukewarm backing from the U.S. — and then only after Washington put the kibosh on the attendance of Iran, whose participation had been deemed vital by Annan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated Wednesday that the U.S. would join representatives from Russia, China, Britain, France, Turkey, the EU and the Arab League in Geneva. The purpose of the meeting, per Annan, is to forge a consensus on the terms for a political solution among international players with stakes and influence in the Syrian conflict over terms for a political solution. The U.N. envoy believes that the best hope of pressing the combatants on the ground to observe his peace plan to which they signed up in April but have not implemented, is for the foreign powers on whose support they variously depend to agree on terms.

But even such key players as the U.S. and Russia can’t agree on a mechanism to resolve the conflict, and the exclusion of Iran and Saudi Arabia after the Obama Administration blocked Tehran’s participation suggests that Saturday’s meeting will simply restate the diplomatic stalemate.

“I have made it quite clear that I believe Iran should be part of the solution,” Annan said in Geneva last Friday. “If we continue the way we are going and competing with each other, it could lead to destructive competition and everyone will pay the price.”

The Obama Administration cited Iran’s role in backing up Syria’s bloody crackdown to declare Tehran’s involvement a “red line” for participating in the Geneva talks, and Annan presumably left out Saudi Arabia as a compensatory gesture to Russia which insists that those countries arming and funding Syria’s rebels share major responsibility for escalating the conflict. But it’s precisely because Iran and Saudi Arabia are playing out their preexisting regional and sectarian rivalries in the Syrian civil war that Annan wanted them at the table if there was to be any hope of achieving a solution without further bloodshed. Many in Washington, however, see the Syrian conflict through the same prism as Saudi Arabia does, seeking the ouster of Assad — Iran’s most important Arab ally — precisely in order to weaken Tehran.

Reuters reports: Turkish troops and military vehicles deployed towards the border with Syria on Thursday as a precaution after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gave orders to react to any Syrian threat approaching the frontier.

Erdogan, who has given shelter in the border area to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, announced the new rules of engagement for Turkish troops on the border after Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish warplane last Friday.

“I can confirm there are troops being deployed along the border in Hatay province. Turkey is taking precautions after its jet was shot down,” a Turkish official said on condition of anonymity.

He said he did not know how many troops or vehicles were being moved but said they were being stationed in the Yayladagi, Altinozu and Reyhanli border areas of Turkey’s southern Hatay province. He said anti-aircraft guns were also being stationed along the border.

The Associated Press reports: A strong explosion rocked the Syrian capital Thursday, sending black smoke billowing into the sky.

The state TV said the explosion was in the parking lot of the Palace of Justice, a compound that houses several courts. The nature of Thursday’s blast was not immediately clear.

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