As the date of the Geneva II conference is approaching, the need for the United States and Russia to overcome their differences and stand together in facing one of the toughest challenges to international peace and security of the last decades — the Syrian crisis — is becoming more urgent. In 2013, Moscow and Washington achieved a lot in unifying their positions toward a number of developments in the Middle East. They successfully started the process of ridding Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles. They constructively cooperated in the dialogue between the P5+1 and Iran. They agreed on the necessity to solve the Syrian crisis exclusively by political — not military — means, and convinced the conflicting sides to participate in a peace conference. From my intensive contacts with decision-makers, diplomats and strategic analysts on both sides — including my recent meetings in the US capital — I understand that Russia and the United States share the same view of Geneva II only being the beginning of a long process. And at this stage to bring the parties to the negotiating table and keep them there, while also continuing dialogue, is already an achievement. Neither side is expecting quick results on the path of political transition in Syria. Speculating about possible outcomes of the conference, which primarily depends on the level of commitment of the Syrian parties, one should still try to determine what Russia and the United States agree and disagree on at this point.
There are certain real disagreements between Washington and Moscow as well as misperceptions about disagreements — some of them imaginary.