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To Help Syrians, Back Real Diplomacy to End the War

Real diplomacy – the kind requiring compromise for a meaningful agreement – is just getting started.

Rough seas and failing temperatures have failed to stop the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe, the New York Times reports.

The ultimate answer to the Syrian refugee crisis is to end the war through diplomacy among the powers backing various sides in the war to reach a political agreement that ends the fighting by ending foreign backing for the fighting, so more people won’t be driven from their homes and so that those already displaced can go home.

The good news is that the process to end the war is already underway. The question is how long it will take to stop the fighting, and how much unnecessary human misery will occur in the meantime as the result of delay in ending the war.

At last week’s meeting in Vienna of major powers involved in the conflict, which included Iran for the first time, participants agreed to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war and work towards a date certain for implementation of a nationwide cease-fire. Another round of talks is planned for next week.

Of course, the Syria war was never likely to end as a result of one international meeting. Two years passed between the start of serious negotiations between the US and Iran following the election of President Rouhani and the conclusion of the Iran nuclear accord. The fact that talks haven’t produced a solution yet doesn’t mean that diplomacy is failing. Real diplomacy – the kind where everyone has to compromise to get a meaningful agreement – is just getting started. The Iran nuclear talks certainly had their share of ups and downs before they finally resulted in agreement.

That doesn’t mean that we just have to be patient. Global public opinion should be pushing for faster progress. In every participating country, there’s a faction that wants a realistic deal to end the war as soon as possible and a faction that doesn’t want realistic diplomacy to succeed – just as was true during the negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal. As it was then, so it is now: It’s the responsibility of people in every country who want realistic diplomacy to succeed to help the pro-diplomacy faction in their country win over the intransigence faction.

Here in the US, Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes has been a leader of the campaign in Congress for the pro-diplomacy faction. On September 29, Rep. Himes led 54 other members of Congress in sending a letter to President Obama calling for international negotiations to bring an end to the conflict in Syria, including with Russia and Iran.

Now that the talks he called for are taking place, Rep. Himes, with 22 co-sponsors at this writing, has introduced a resolution with the same fundamental message: “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the President of the United States should use the full authority of his office to convene international negotiations intended to stop the civil war in Syria.”

That might seem pretty modest. After all, you could say, President Obama is already doing that. But as we saw in the debate over the Iran nuclear agreement, getting Members of Congress to say yes to real diplomacy is a big deal. Real diplomacy requires compromise: in a realistic deal, the Russia-Iran axis isn’t going to get everything it wants, and the US-Saudi Arabia-Turkey axis isn’t going to get everything it wants. As Rep. Himes said on the House floor in announcing the letter of the 55, we have to accept the fact that the deal that emerges from realistic diplomacy on Syria isn’t going to be perfect from the point of view of Washington – just as the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t perfect from the point of view of Washington.

If the talks start to make serious progress towards an agreement that ends the war, some Republicans are sure to be invited on the Sunday talk shows to say: OMG! Obama and Kerry are giving away the store! They’re getting rolled by Russia and Iran! If only a Republican saber-rattler were president, it would be all unicorns and ponies!

If the Iran nuclear deal is prologue, the administration is likely to be looking over its shoulder to see if they have backing from Democrats in Congress for a realistic deal.

That’s where you come in. You can urge your representative to co-sponsor the Himes resolution supporting diplomacy to end the Syria war here.

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