The Iran Project

Political consensus is key to Syria peace conference

While some member states of the international community have gathered in Geneva to find a solution to the Syrian conflict, there is less hope that a sustainable political agreement can be reached without Iran’s presence. Indeed, the resolution of any regional crisis needs “political consensus” to exist among all major regional players.

Throughout the contemporary history of the Middle East, no regional crisis has been resolved in the absence of relative cooperation and consent of all key regional players. Of course, there might have been some temporary solutions, but again they didn’t last long. This is due to the fact that the region is highly political and ideological that every player’s take on the impacts of a crisis depends on the principles and values that govern that state’s interests, as well as the perception of the ruling elites about the opportunities and challenges raised by that crisis to the country’s national security and political system. This is why that a conflict is not usually contained within the national borders and ultimately involves all regional actors.

It is for this reason that the incumbent Turkish government has started to slowly change its Syria policy mainly as a result of the failure of Ankara’s approach to the crisis and the detrimental effects that it has brought about for the domestic standing of the ruling Justice and Development Party.

Likewise, the ruling elites in Saudi Arabia, angry about a recent nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1, especially with the United States, have been taking every action in their power to reduce and contain Iran’s regional role through the Syrian crisis. In Iraq, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is taking advantage of the opportunity to further strengthen his coalitional government and domestic political stance by directly linking the national security of Iraq to the issue of fighting terrorism and extremism, spilling over into Iraq as a result of the ongoing crisis in Syria.

The Israeli regime has opted for policy of “strategic silence” at this juncture, believing possibly that it would be better for Israel if all the potentials of regional states and political forces of different kind are exhausted through heavy engagement in conflicts with one another, based on whatever reason it might be. Following the downfall of Mohamed Morsi’s government in Egypt, the new government has also taken a new approach to the Syria crisis that is more compatible with Egypt’s classic realist policy in having balanced political relations with Syria in the context of the Arab world’s politics.

Our country, Iran, is no exception to the above mentioned rule. Iran’s Syria policy is a function of preserving the traditional balance of power and state’s geopolitical and ideological interests that shape the general context of Iran’s foreign policy approach towards various regional issues. In fact, Iran’s strengthening policy in dealing with the Syrian crisis, is an advantageous point and a powerful bargaining chip in conducting relations with the great powers such as America and Russia on other strategic issues such as Iran’s nuclear standoff.

Yet, it is odd that the American policy makers, who are typically interest-oriented, are repeating the same mistake in Syria as they made in Afghanistan and Iraq. By minimizing  Iran’s role in the regional crises, they are actually making the process of finding a sustainable solution to the crisis most costly.

Unlike the nuclear case that Iran wants to see the end result, that is the recognition of its right to enrich uranium, at the beginning of the negotiations, when it comes to the Syrian crisis, it is in the process of the negotiations that Iran can play it constructive role in forging political consensus among involved parties. In other word, when Iran is ensured that it is a part of the game, it adopts a more cooperative approach.

By excluding Iran from the Geneva 2 conference, it seems that another opportunity for creating consensus among regional players has been easily lost. This will mean nothing but the prolongation of the Syrian crisis for some more time and that every regional player would have to take its own independent approach to handle this crisis.

However, the United States really needs to change its traditional style of dealing with regional issues that is to follow policies that encourage states to line up against each other. This approach has mostly served to break up any political consensus among major regional players, encouraging them to pursue their own specific policies in handling a crisis. This is the crux of continued crises in the region. Washington is badly in need for finding a more sophisticated approach, which would essentially serve to bolster regional cooperation.

This article was written by Kayhan Barzegar for Iran review on January 26,2013. Dr. Kayhan Barzegar, Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University. He is also Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.



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