The role of Tehran in Syria’s future developments

The four-sided meeting of Russia, the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia on Syria ended its work on Friday with two opposing opinions presented by the participants. United States Secretary of State John Kerry said he had a fruitful meeting with his counterparts, but Adel al-Jubair, the Saudi foreign minister, said that there was no consensus on the future of Assad, and tried to depict the Vienna meeting as a failure.

Apparently and according to what Russian and the U.S. sources have said, another summit is expected to be held in Vienna on October 29-30 with the participation of more countries, in the hope of finding a comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis.

According to political analysts, despite the fact that the next session in Vienna will see the participation of Jordan, the UAE, and Egypt, most diplomats close to the negotiators have acknowledged that it is ‘Iran’ that has so far been excluded from the negotiation process unjustifiably. A French diplomat told Radio France Internationale that back in early June, the French diplomats had informed the U.S. and Saudi foreign ministers that it was imperative to invite Tehran to be part of the process.

Now, the issue of the presence of Iran in the Syria peace talks seems to have passed from a political will to more of a necessity, with which the United States is trying to deal with.

Moscow, which in the wake of its recent 3-week long attacks on the positions of Bashar al-Assad’s opponents and terrorist groups, has changed from being an ordinary party to a war into a force that can determine the fate of Syria and the Middle East, has also stressed that Tehran must be present in the negotiations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said before the Vienna meeting on Friday that “we are confident that efforts to support the peace process in Syria are doomed without Iran.” But will the partaking parties and Tehran (if invited) reach a preliminary consensus, if not necessarily a comprehensive agreement, on the issue next week? A very senior diplomat with Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the Russia Today that “we are within a successful domino chain. Moscow wants Tehran’s role in Syria and supports the Egyptian position in Syria. Qatar and Jordan are also trying to deal with us.”

However, ambiguities still lie in front of us, explaining which seems difficult. However it seems that Moscow is waiting for significant events to happen in Syria. First, it is still unclear why Assad traveled to Russia last week. Secondly, the influential Iranian diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said “Iran does not insist on keeping Assad in power forever.” These words have brought about many questions regarding Iran’s position vis-à-vis Syria. Thirdly, it seems that the U.S. is starting to deal with Iran’s role in Syria.

Some European diplomats say that some of the current uncertainties of Washington stem from two primary reasons: First, they are thinking about how an acceptance of Tehran’s plan would help strengthen the positions of Russia, and second, how coping with Iran will lead to the strengthening of Tehran’s position in the region.

In any case, understanding this issue is not that complex. Despite the stance of the United States, if Russia considers the role of Tehran as a force merely reinforcing Moscow’s position, Tehran might not be able to have a profound impact on regional developments and that is why Tehran’s stance has become of great importance to the Western parties, especially Washington. A journalist specializing in Arab affairs who has recently returned from Tehran to Beirut told me, “Yes it’s true. The Iranians’ game is very complex. Understanding the diplomacy of Iranians is really hard.”

This article was written by Matin Moslem for Tehran Times on Oct. 29, 2015.