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Editorial Note: The following news reports are summaries from original sources. They may also include corrections of Arabic names and political terminology. Comments are in parentheses.

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Obama and Putin Agree on Fighting the Islamic State, Israel Could Not Be Happier

September 29, 2015 

A background about how Israel is behind the destruction of the Middle East:

Creative Destruction: The Name of the Game in the Middle East

 

 
Obama and Putin agree on fighting the Islamic State during a UN meeting, September 28, 2015  

 

Obama, Putin Talks 'Surprisingly Open' After Frosty Beginning

by M. Alex Johnson

NBC, September 29, 2015

Stark differences remain between the United States and Russia over Syria, but Vladimir Putin said Monday that his first formal talks with President Obama in two years had been "very constructive and surprisingly open."

After a toast that was anything but toasty, the two leaders sat down for a summit meeting at the U.N. General Assembly.

There were no breakthroughs but their face-to-face talks, originally scheduled for an hour, ran for 90 minutes, ending about 6:40 p.m. ET.

"We have a lot in common," Putin told reporters afterwards. While "disputes remain," he declared that "we have sound grounds to work on the points of concern together."

Neither leader showed much warmth in front of the cameras, and Obama pointedly refused to return Putin's smile during an awkward toast at dinner, remaining grim-looking and stone-faced.

Senior Obama administration officials said the two leaders agreed to explore a political resolution in Syria and decided that there should be conversations between U.S. and Russian military officials to de-escalate the conflict there.

In remarks to reporters, Obama insisted President Bashar Assad must relinquish power while Putin supported Assad as the only option to defeat ISIS.

Obama called Assad a "tyrant" who "drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent civilians."

While ISIS which he called an "apocalyptic cult" must be defeated, Obama said, "dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world."

Members of the Russian delegation could be seen shaking their heads in disagreement during Obama's remarks.

When his turn came, Putin defended Assad as a stabilizing force who's "valiantly fighting terrorism face to face."

"This is not about Russia's ambitions but about the recognition of the fact that we can no longer tolerate the urgent state of affairs in the world," he said.

Administration officials said Obama also made time to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, stressing his support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity after having said in his public remarks that the country couldn't be allowed to fall under Russian rule.

"If that happens without consequences in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today," Obama said.

Putin has recently ratcheted up his country's military presence in Syria and struck an intelligence-sharing agreement with Iran, Syria and Iraq, another nation fighting ISIS.

Both developments caught U.S. officials off guard.

Putin also moved swiftly to try to capitalize on the failure of U.S. efforts to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels a $500 million Pentagon program that was supposed to yield more than 5,000 fighters but instead only has only a handful of active graduates.

 

How Russia Is Aiming for Syria Checkmate

by Richard Engel

NBC, September 29, 2015

ISTANBUL, Turkey

 It all goes back a couple of months.

There were reports in early August that Iran's most important intelligence chief Qassem Soliemani visited Moscow.

Soliemani is a closer.

He's not one to go for preliminary meetings. Moscow and Tehran, just like Washington, were concerned that President Bashar Assad's regime might fall, which all sides thought would be a disaster. Despite Washington's public stance that "Assad must go," U.S. officials don't want to see him run out of Damascus by ISIS or a rebel mob, not anymore anyway.

These days Assad is so weak Russia and Iran are effectively running Syria.

For Iran, Syria is a key regional ally, a direct line to Hezbollah and a religious partner, since the Assad clan is Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam, close enough for Shia Tehran to consider it part of its sphere of influence.

For Russia, Syria is its last client state in the Middle East and home to an important warm water port.

In the meeting in Moscow, Iran and Russia decided to support the Syrian regime so it wouldn't fall. But does supporting the regime in Damascus necessarily mean sticking with President Assad personally?

A top U.S. intelligence official and a senior Arab diplomat familiar with events in Moscow tell NBC News the two aren't necessarily linked.

Even before Russia deployed troops to Syria, sources told NBC News that Russia's increasing interest in Syria could be a way out of what has been a black hole in the Middle East.

The calculation is actually very simple.

By barrel-bombing and rocketing cities across Syria, Assad is creating more enemies than he is killing.

Assad is a magnet for ISIS. Russia and Iran appear to be coming around to the idea that Assad is more of a liability than an asset.

But of course Russia has politics to play and will make sure that any end to the Syrian conflict works in its favor.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials, current and former, and a high-ranking Arab government adviser tell NBC News that Russia wants to make sure the world understands that it sticks by its allies while Washington treats them as disposable.

Don't expect Russia to come out publicly against Assad.

In the short term, in fact, Russia may try to prop him up, shore up his regime, weaken ISIS, and then, when Moscow is good and ready, it could encourage Assad to step down in a political transition. The process will have to look legitimate with a referendum and/or a political conference in a European capital.

Russia's game plan over the next several months could be to: prop up the regime to make sure Assad doesn't fall, usher in a new government under Moscow's supervision and reap the benefits. In this way, Russia proves its position as a world power (an obsession of Putin's), embarrasses Washington and curtails Tehran's influence in Syria, which Moscow doesn't entirely trust.

It's not surprising or unusual that Russia is intervening in Syria. It's not as if Washington has done a fantastic job managing the chaos over the last four years.

For Russia, Syria has also become a matter of some urgency. Russia also doesn't want Syrian-trained jihadis from Chechnya and Dagestan flowing back home.

Already a top US intelligence official said there are meetings with Russian security officials about weakening ISIS.

Big politics are underway. It is a game of chess and Russia has moved its knights and castles towards a checkmate.

 

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