Need for direct Iran-US talks on Syria

Iranian Diplomacy’s interview with Qassem Mohebbali, an expert on Syrian affairs:

– It seems that the position of some Arab countries with regard to Syria has been weakened after the Geneva agreement. Some experts believe that, under the present conditions, the Syrian government will enter the scene of the Geneva-2 talks with a more powerful position. Would you agree with this assessment?

– Iran’s nuclear issue has been one of the important and key issues of the US’ Middle East policy along with some other issues which were related to this dossier. The question is why has Iran’s nuclear issue become so important? The reasons are as follows:

1- US policy in the Middle East was related to Israel’s security and Middle East peace. At the time, Iran was accused of seeking nuclear weapons, thus Israel’s security was automatically threatened.

2- The issue of the US’ Arab allies in the region which are important for the US because of their oil, like Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf littoral states which were placed in two areas of US foreign policy, one national security and the other national interests.

3- Religious radicalism and terrorism which has grown since September 11th.

4- US presence in the region, meaning in Iraq and Afghanistan, and US policy in these countries and relations between Iran and the West.

All of these issues are related to Iran’s nuclear issue. Of course, Syria plays a key role for it is both related to the issue of Israel’s security and to Iran’s regional policies due to Shiite and ethnic issues, the presence of Hezbollah and relations between Iran and the Arab world, the issue of Iraq and even the security of energy resources or oil fields. Naturally, the issue of Syria has found importance both for Iran and for other parties in the regional and international scene. Thus, when Iran’s nuclear issue moves towards its resolution, we must wait to see what implications it would have on other issues including the issue of Syria, whether directly or indirectly. The reason is that if this issue is directly on the table of negotiations between Iran and the West, it will have its impacts even indirectly. But with regard to the question of what would these implications be or would it be to the advantage or disadvantage of Syria or what interpretation would the other parties like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, regional powers and Assad’s opposition have, one must wait and see what happens because right now they are certainly not happy with this situation and they even feel threatened.

– Considering the advances made by the Syrian government and Iran’s agreement, the opposition is weak right now. How possible is it that new demands and requests would be different from what has, so far, been proposed?

– The position of the Syrian army has somehow improved after the entrance of Hezbollah and its allies into Syria and they have taken back some of the important regions from the opposition. On the other hand, as time has passed since the beginning of the crisis, discord has been intensified among the opposition instead of unity and there are divisions. Right now Syria is divided into several parts:

A big part is under the control of the government. One part is controlled by the Kurds and the issue is has this happened due to the government’s request or have they themselves been able to control these regions. Another part is in the hands of the allies or supporters of al-Qaeda and Salafi extremists and the Sunnis. One part is also in the hands of forces which are closer to the western countries like the Free Army.

Each one of them has created certain powers for itself in its own region and Syria is now divided into different regions with different leaders. It seems that none of the international powers is satisfied with this situation and they do not want Syria to be transformed into a divided county like Somalia or a country with no government. Thus, they are also interested in this crisis being resolved soon. Under these circumstances, the Syrian army plays a key role because without its presence there is no guaranteeing power to guarantee that a resolution is agreed upon and each one of them may disrupt this agreement. Therefore, this issue has created a special situation for Bashar Assad and the government of Syria and they must be present in the process of development. Also, the army is in a situation which might collapse without the presence of Bashar Assad and the government. This is a significant advantage which Bashar Assad holds right now and can use in the Geneva-2 conference because none of the other forces is able to establish a substitute government which could guarantee the agreements.

– Therefore, can it be said that the position of the opposition has practically been weakened in Geneva-2?

– Yes. First of all because the big problem of any solution is that there must first be an alternative which does not exist among the opposition. Second, even if there is an alternative, it must be able to enforce its power at the present time. Even if the opposition would have reached an agreement and created a united front upon which all of the international powers would have agreed, since they have no power to enforce their power inside Syria, they could not succeed. Under such conditions, a foreign power must again practically enter the scene like in Iraq which the Americans had occupied and then stated that they should establish a government and write a constitution. If these foreign and international forces were not present, what guarantee would there be for these events to happen? Hence, the army plays a key role right now and if Assad and his allies are clever, they hold a winning card in their hands. But they must know that they cannot return to the past. It is true that the government and army of Syria have made advances, but this process is unpredictable. This means that this situation may last for years to come or it may change within a short period of time. Therefore, in order to end this war, one cannot return to the past and it must not be expected that a government similar to the previous one would be established and Bashar Assad would gain full authority and no other political party or individual would be active. This fact must be accepted that it is not possible to return to the past, meaning that neither the constitution nor the structure could return to their previous forms, but that they must rather look towards the future. Bashar Assad must understand the situation in order to be able to end the crisis.

– Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, has stated that the Iran-P5+1 agreement about Iran’s nuclear issue in the Geneva negotiations would be useful in resolving the Syrian crisis in the Geneva-2 conference. How would the Russian view with regard to the Syrian issue be interpreted after Iran’s agreement?

– One of the big problems which existed before was that Iran and the US were not willing to negotiate, but right now this problem has been solved and the rumor of indirect talks with Iran has been removed. Some third countries like Russia, European countries and the Arabs have always been mediators of talks between Iran and the US which always made issues more complicated. This problem also existed on the issue of Syria. When the Americans could not talk with Iran, they exerted their utmost pressure so that Iran would not be present at the negotiating table about Syria. But if they can talk with Iran, then the issue will naturally change and Iran can also be among the countries present in Geneva-2. Therefore, Iran can play a constructive role among the opposition, meaning that Iran could be a mediator between the government of Bashar Assad and the international community. If Iran is interested in finding a peaceful resolution for the Syrian issue, its role can be very constructive and it can decide about the division of future forces in Syria. Naturally, Iran can participate in this balance of power and help its progress. This would be to the benefit of the Russians because part of the burden which they had to bear against the US can now be placed upon the shoulders of Iran.

Iran must pursue an active regional diplomacy along with nuclear diplomacy and they should complement each other. One of the important parts of diplomacy is certainly the issue of Syria. It is true that the issue of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and even the Middle East peace process and Egypt are also important issues, but our diplomacy with regard to the issue of Syria is more urgent and more significant.

By IR Diplomacy

 

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