US Syria deal with Russia unattainable without Iran’s approval

Alwaght– The US is growing concerned as it has lost its influence in the Syrian crisis and is no longer a key actor on the scene.

The Russian-initiated Astana peace talks coincided with the US presidential election and so Washington had no time to influence the process. After the election, the newly-installed President Trump was yet to determine his Syria strategy, and so addressed the case with some delay. The situation even went more complicated as the US leader took the burden of addressing Syria case from the Department of State and instead tasked the Pentagon with more work to meet his goals.

After delayed entry to the Syrian crisis following Astana peace negotiations, the new American leaders prioritized two works in a bid for faster pursuit of their objectives in the war-devastated country. First area of action of Washington was pressing the Iran-led Axis of Resistance geopolitically. To this end, the US designed plans to focus on military presence on the borders between Syria and Iraq. Another area was an attempt to move away from the second-class acting situation and improve to an actor as leading as Russia. This aim led the Americans to expand the so-called “de-escalation zones.”

The de-escalation zones initiative was raised as it was practically impossible for the US to launch massive operation in southwestern Syria as it lacks reliable local allies in south, just unlike Turkey that ran its military operation in Syria’s north on the strength of trustable allies from the Syrian opposition.

Missing allies in southwest pushed the US to seek relatively-approved presence in southwestern regions using negotiation trick. The Americans publicized some of their demands in Syria as they sat on the negotiating table with the Russians early in June. After several negotiation rounds held “quietly”, as described by the Reuters, the US said that Washington and Moscow struck a deal on establishing de-escalation zones in southwest, but short after the Russians denied that any accord was drawn up.

The American-Russian negotiations were held as Turkey, Russia, and Iran were discussing a ceasefire deal in southwest. Iran, one of the three sponsors of Astana talks and a leading pro-Syrian actor on the ground, argued that only Daraa, a city in Syria’s southwest should be covered by a truce and other southern regions held by ISIS and al-Nusra Front, should see no repose of anti-terror fight.

But the Russians, meanwhile, played a smart game on the awareness of the Americans’ weaker position in Syrian case. This issue showed itself at the meeting of President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump on the G20 summit sidelines on July 7. While aware of the Syrian and Iranian sensitivity to any compromise that paves the way for legitimizing American presence in Syria, Moscow knows well that Washington needs discussing Syria at any price to come out with relatively desired results. Russia is interested in negotiations with the US as it looks at them as a poppet valve. In fact, while the Russians are witnessing dead end in relations with the Americans over Ukraine, NATO, and Eastern Europe militarization, the Syrian conflict can provide a window of dialogue between the two powers.

With bilateral need for talking, the Moscow-Washington dialogue is expected to unfold. Putin sent his Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev to Tehran to have an insight into Iranian views on Syria-related talks. Russia knows well that the Syrian battlegrounds are now dominated by Iran and its allies, and if it ignores Iran’s Syria considerations and sensitivities, it might end up losing precious trump cards in front of the US. So the Russians are not slated to make deal with the Americans against the Iranians.

Iran has two fundamental considerations in Syria. First: ISIS and Al-Nusra terrorist groups’ activity outside Daraa, that is confirmed by Russia and the United Nations. Tehran asserts that areas of terrorists’ presence should be excluded from any de-escalation zone. Second, Iran does not allow its archenemy, the Israeli regime, to set up a secure belt on its eastern borders with Syria using terrorist groups’ clout.

Therefore, the Americans claims that they have reached an agreement with Russians is a media war. This means that ISIS and al-Nusra areas of operation in southwest Syria will not be covered by any deal for cessation of conflict. On the other side, the Americans are inclined to approve of Resistance camp’s conditions as they seek a toehold in Syria’s future politics and security. That is why they declined to react to this camp’s views passed to them by Putin’s envoy.

On the other hand, Iran-led Resistance front does not oppose a de-escalation zone that covers some factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the military wing of the Syrian opposition. Some FSA factions are southern tribal groups that were trained by the US and are meant to be Washington’s main proxies in the area.

But the main point is that the US wants to depict the Syrian negotiations process as dominated by Washington and Moscow and underestimate Iran’s role. But this is not the reality, otherwise the Russians would not bother taking into consideration the Iranian stances before any deal with the US.