Yesterday I wondered why Russia was compelling Syria to the bargaining table in light of the fact that Obama was clearly in a very weak position regarding a possible (probable?) loss on the authorization of force vote in Congress. Ezra Klein has a reasonable take on the logic:
Basically, the US wants to uphold an international norm against the use of chemical weapons while simultaneously supporting the rebel forces in Syria to the extent that Assad is compelled to negotiate a transition of power. Naturally, the US wants to do this without committing military forces or ground troops to the fray.
Assad’s primary goal is to remain in power. Assad employed chemical weapons in a bid to do so. However, Assad sees US intervention (or assistance) on behalf of the rebels as his greatest threat; as such, Assad is aiming to force the US to choose between aiding the rebels and upholding the norm against the use of chemical weapons. Assad is banking on the fact that the US will be ok allowing Assad to continue conventional attacks against his own citizens (rebel forces) if the US gets a win on chemical weapons. (Basically, the chemical weapons will still be a tool to allow Assad to remain in power; however, instead of being deployed, they are being bartered for US abstention from the remainder of the conflict). Given US domestic sentiment; Obama very well might take Assad up on the offer.
If you combine this logic with the fact that Russia wants to constrain the US to channeling its diplomacy through the UN (where Russia has a veto on the Security Council), and you can begin to see why Russia and Syria jumped at the opportunity to negotiate with the US. Again, this raises the question of why we weren’t discussing diplomatic solutions with Russia/Syria earlier, but I’m still pleased with the turn of events over the last several days.