“Open to discussions on Syria”

A piece in Foreign Policy notes that after the successful Iran deal questions there are plans to revive peace talks in Syria, “The United States has launched a fresh attempt to revive peace talks designed to end the four-year Syrian civil war, hoping to capitalise on the aftermath of the Iran nuclear accord and the battlefield setbacks of the regime in Damascus. U.S. officials cautioned that the effort led by Secretary of State John Kerry was at an early stage and — like previous diplomatic attempts — could end in failure due to the deep differences that still separate the main players and their patrons in the multisided conflict. And officials said Washington wasn’t offering a specific peace proposal and didn’t have a timeline for developing one. As the primary backer and lifeline for Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Iran could hold the key to any sort of peaceful settlement of the civil war that has claimed more than 200,000 lives and sent millions of Syrians fleeing into other countries. But as long as the delicate nuclear talks were underway, U.S. diplomats had been reluctant to engage Tehran on Syria to avoid giving the Iranians possible leverage that could have strengthened their bargaining position in the negotiations”.

The report goes on to note “After the nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran was clinched on July 14, it opened a possible door — albeit a narrow one — to diplomacy on the Syrian conflict, Obama administration officials said”.

Interestingly he notes “Days after the nuclear accord was unveiled, Kerry suggested that Iran’s leadership appeared ready for discussions on “regional issues” and that it was worth exploring the opportunity. “My judgment is that there are possibilities there, but I’m not going to promise them, I can’t tell you where they’ll go, and I’m not betting on them,” he said. As part of the renewed American push, Kerry has been discreetly reaching out to his counterparts in Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf to see if there are grounds to breathe life into a potential peace process. Turkey and the Gulf monarchies have backed various Sunni rebels in the Syrian civil war and long focused on Assad’s ouster, though the nations are increasingly invested in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State”.

 

He mentions that “Assad himself has publicly acknowledged that his army can no longer secure parts of the country. The government troops and Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia have suffered serious casualties and lost key battles in Idlib, eastern Homs province, and in the south at Deraa, and the regime appears to be retrenching to western strongholds, including Damascus and the Alawite heartland along the Mediterranean coast, which account for barely a fifth of the country. Although the regime is not on the verge of collapse, “they’re tired, [and] they’re overstretched,” the official said. President Barack Obama told the New York Times on July 14 that Russia appeared more open to discussions on Syria as it recognized “the Assad regime is losing a grip over greater and greater swaths of territory inside of Syria.” He added: “That offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them.” The effort to start those conversations got a boost on Aug. 6 when the United States persuaded Russia to back a United Nations resolution setting up an independent panel to identify suspects behind ongoing chlorine chemical weapons attacks in Syria”.

He continues making the point that “In another sign of a possible shift, Russia announced an invitation to the Syrian National Coalition, the country’s main opposition group, for talks in Moscow later this month. The cooperation between Washington and Moscow on the U.N. resolution came amid a flurry of diplomacy surrounding the Syrian conflict. Kerry discussed Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Doha on Aug. 3. And Kerry and Lavrov held another meeting two days later on the sidelines of a summit in Kuala Lumpur. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, meanwhile, flew to Tehran, where he met Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers on Aug. 5 and then headed to Oman the next day”.

Pointedly, “Oman, which maintains friendly ties with both Shiite-ruled Iran and Sunni Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf, emerged as a pivotal interlocutor for the United States in the nuclear negotiations between Tehran and world powers. And the small kingdom still has diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime, unlike other Gulf States. Although the combination of military defeats for the regime and the nuclear deal with Iran has cleared the way for a new diplomatic effort, the prospects for success remained uncertain and fraught with risks, officials said. “There’s a more concerted effort to get a political solution there through diplomacy,” said another administration official familiar with the talks”.

Yet, “Having thrown its full weight behind the Damascus regime, there is no indication yet that Tehran is ready to dramatically alter its position over Syria, analysts and former U.S. officials said. “I don’t see any sign, based on what the Iranians are saying both publicly and privately, that they are looking to negotiate a serious change,” said Robert Ford, who was the last U.S. ambassador to serve in Syria before relations collapsed. Iran recently announced it would present a peace plan for Syria this month to the United Nations, but Tehran has said the outline is a revised version of a previous proposal — which did not call for Assad’s ouster. The conclusion of the nuclear accord with Iran removed a possible impediment to peace talks on Syria, but it also will ease sanctions on Tehran that could enable it to bolster its support for the Assad regime — and undermine any negotiations, Ford said”.

He concludes “Even if American diplomats find some sliver of common ground with their Iranian counterparts on the Syrian conflict, they will face deep suspicions from Sunni Arab countries already anxious about the implications of Washington’s nuclear accord with their rivals in Tehran. Any diplomatic progress with Iran over Syria would confirm fears in the Gulf that Washington is plotting to tilt its strategic approach in the Middle East towards Iran, said Ilan Goldenberg, a former senior State Department official. Before any potential diplomatic breakthrough, he added, the Obama administration will have to do more to reassure its Arab allies that there is no tectonic shift under way in its foreign policy”.

 

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One Response to ““Open to discussions on Syria””

  1. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] the recent article on US moves to begin talks about the Syrian conflict another piece describes how the Saudis are acting as a back channel in […]

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