This week UN envoy Kofi Annan floated the idea of inviting Iran to multilateral talks to discuss “political transition” in Syria. An impartial observer would likely see Annan’s idea as a blindingly obvious one. Iran is Syria’s closest Middle Eastern ally and has influence that could precipitate a political solution to a situation that has all the hallmarks of civil war.
U.S. intransigence over keeping Iran isolated from the talks smacks of biting off the nose to spite the face. It borders on farcical that Kuwait and Qatar would be invited to this meeting but not Iran, a country that has over 30 years of military, commercial and political ties with Syria. The bonds developed during this time should be used to foster a bloodless political transition in the Levantine state.
The U.S. has two objectives for Syria: a permanent ceasefire and a political landscape that severs the county’s long-standing political and military alliance with Iran. However it can’t have it both ways as the latter objective seriously undermines the former. Iran and Russia are the only regional players that can effectively influence – and therefore calm – the embattled state.
During a trip to Israel earlier this month former U.S. deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams summed up the U.S. geopolitical perspective on Syria. “Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have to lose,” he said.
Iran certainly wants to maintain its relationship with a key regional ally but it has no interest in a security crackdown, but rather in reform and serious dialogue between the executive and the opposition. By both Iran and the U.S. participating in the talks a political solution and a concomitant ceasefire could be within sight.
But to entertain the – unlikely – possibility of Iran being invited to the talks, recent history should be recalled. During the post 9/11 run-up to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Iran and the U.S. met under meetings now dubbed the Geneva Contact Group. Iran offered intelligence on the Taliban, search and rescue for downed U.S. aircrew members, access to its airspace and safe passage for humanitarian supplies. It also arrested and deported hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and famously got the U.S. out of a sticky situation by persuading Northern Alliance representative Younnis Qanooni to accept fewer ministries in the future Afghan government.
Subsequently it was revealed that U.S. negotiators were briefed to make deals with Iran for tactical advantage only and to avoid forging any strategic ties, even mutually beneficial ones. Two months later, Bush shocked Iran with his notorious Axis of Evil speech.
Iran naturally wants to use its regional influence to effect change in the Middle East, but at the same time it should remain cautious of being exploited for mere tactical advantage.
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|Last Updated on 29 June 2012 16:59|