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Inside the Ring

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Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

BAD NEWS FOR ‘RESET’

U.S. intelligence agencies threw cold water on the President Obama’s thus-far-unsuccessful effort to “reset” relations with Russia by making concessions to Moscow.

The prepared testimony of Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence predicted that advancing U.S.-Russian relations “will prove increasingly challenging” under the expected elevation again of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the presidency.

“Putin has acknowledged that the reset with Washington has yielded benefits for Russia, suggesting he sees value in preserving a cooperative relationship,” Mr. Clapper said.

“Nevertheless, Putin’s instinctive distrust of U.S. intentions and his transactional approach towards relations probably will make him more likely to confront Washington over policy differences.”

Three years of efforts to improve ties have produced few, if any, positive results.

The administration caved in to Russian demands not to deploy long-range anti-missile interceptors in Eastern Europe and offered several concessions to cooperate on missile defenses.

Moscow pocketed the concessions and continues to demand legally binding limits on U.S. and NATO defenses.

Russia also is “not likely” to help U.S. and international efforts on Iran and Syria, Mr. Clapper said, noting that Moscow remains suspicious of U.S. support for independent former Soviet states.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty also was one-sided. Data released by the State Department shows Moscow already was below treaty arms levels, making the heralded agreement a unilateral U.S. disarmament pact.

Meanwhile, Russian armed forces are being modernized with more agile, high-tech capabilities.

“In 2010, [Russian President Dmitri Medvedev] and Putin approved a 10-year procurement plan to replace Soviet-era hardware and bolster deterrence with a balanced set of modern conventional, asymmetric, and nuclear capabilities,” Mr. Clapper stated.

SYRIAN TIPPING POINT?

U.S. intelligence agencies this week detected increasing signs the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is close to collapsing amid continuing defections by troops and instability.

The most recent indicator is of the declining security situation in areas surrounding the capital of Damascus. On Monday, fighting between the rebel Free Syrian Army of defectors and the Syrian forces was reported to be within 8 miles of the downtown area.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said in a Senate hearing Tuesday that the fall of the Assad regime is “a question of time.”

Mr. Clapper also said Iran and Hezbollah are trying to bolster the regime in Syria.

CIA Director David H. Petraeus said during the hearing: “Clearly the loss of Syria as a logistics platform, a line of communication into Lebanon to support Hezbollah, would be a substantial setback for Iran in its efforts to use Hezbollah as a proxy, and that is indeed why the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force is so engaged in trying to prop up Bashar al-Assad right now.”

U.S. officials said Free Syrian Army fighters are seeking to force their way into Damascus with some 300 new defectors from regime forces who have joined the rebels.

According to the officials, one rebel reported that a Syrian brigadier general recently defected with 300 soldiers outside Damascus, and an opposition Facebook page called “The Syrian Revolution” said Monday that an entire rocket brigade had defected and “threatened to attack the presidential palace and the General Intelligence Department in Damascus.”

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About the Author

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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