Arab Today, arab today the russian opportunity for iranian flexibility
Last Updated : GMT 02:08:32
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The Russian opportunity for Iranian flexibility

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Arab Today, arab today the russian opportunity for iranian flexibility

Walid Choucair

American and Russian diplomats are differing over how to translate their agreement to remove Syria’s chemical weapons into a United Nations Security Council resolution. This dispute indicates that they remain unable to agree on the "day after" for the regime, immediately after the agreement goes into effect. In other words, they are unable to agree on the agenda of a Geneva 2 peace conference to launch a political solution to the Syria crisis, the nature of this solution, and the role of Syrian President Bashar Assad in this solution. Most likely, the two superpowers will be able to arrive at an agreement over the language of a Security Council resolution (whether or not it mentions Chapter 7 of the UN Charter), which will complete the agreement on removing Syria’s chemical weapons. Removing the possibility of a military strike against the regime was a fundamental reason for this agreement and it is a sufficient reason for not moving away from such a step. Moreover, when leading countries forge an agreement, it is difficult for either side to negate it. It will be difficult for Moscow to continue its efforts to absolve Assad of responsibility for using chemical weapons, after Russia and Iran believed that they had achieved something by getting the agreement on removing these weapons. This will keep the head of the regime in power and turn him into a negotiator in a long process that is required by the implementation of the agreement with the United Nations and international experts. This will cement Assad and his legitimacy as the head of state during a period of searching for a political solution in the coming months. Accusing the regime of responsibility for the chemical attack on 21 August makes it difficult to see Assad remain as a prime negotiator for the next phase and the political process that is supposed to unfold, after the removal of chemical weapons takes it course. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama believes that “it's very hard to imagine … (the Syrian) civil war dying down if in fact Assad is still in power.” The maneuverings over ways to implement an agreement on chemical weapons can be summed up by the dispute over what will follow. Moscow and Washington had arrived at an agreement on beginning with negotiations on a political solution with Assad, as part of a process that would end without him. Each side said it accepted this; for Washington, beginning the political process was not conditional on Assad’s departure, while for Moscow, the end of the process would not necessarily see him stay on. But there is another factor, which goes beyond what is acceptable to Moscow, and that is Iran. If the US and Russian agreement on removing Syria’s chemical weapons involves a convergence on the determination to safeguard Israel’s security, the Russians are aware that guaranteeing this security involves Hezbollah, and Iran. Moscow has relayed this to the Americans, who early on signaled an openness to Tehran, based on what was said by both Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rohani. The pending issues between the two countries have prompted Tehran’s determination to see Assad remain in power, and Hezbollah play a role in Syria (along with the party’s role in Lebanon, naturally), using them as bargaining chips that will not be abandoned, unless it is in the context of dealing with these pending issues with Washington. It is not in Iran’s power to object to Moscow’s decision that Assad turn over his chemical weapons, but likewise, Russia cannot object to Iran’s role in the political process, especially if it continues to support Assad’s staying in power, because it is protecting him on the ground. Washington is aware of this, and thus launched negotiations with Iran through several channels, such as using the UN deputy secretary general Jeffrey Feltman to visit Iran twice. Feltman did so wearing the “hat” of the UN, but later donned an American “hat” to announce on 25 August that he thanked the Iranians for cooperating on the Syrian crisis. On the 12th of this month, he told CNN “It's hard for us to imagine any solution in Syria that doesn't somehow have an Iranian role… we don't believe that simply by talking to the Syrians themselves we're going to be able to solve the Syria crisis at this point.” The Iranians, Feltman said, were important in this regard. The evolution on this front lies in the fact that Washington accepted negotiations with Tehran over its regional role, after in the past limiting things to negotiations over its nuclear program, because Gulf countries feared this policy would be at cross-purposes to their own pending issues with Tehran. Most likely, it is no coincidence that the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, invited Rohani to the Hajj while Rohani has demonstrated openness, opening channels of communications with the Americans. The invitation opens up a new window for Iran to involve itself in issues connected to the Gulf, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Sayyed Ali Khamenei, talks about employing the “flexibility of heroes” in reaching an agreement with the west, which is clear cover for the policy of Rohani, who said this week that he had “full power to negotiate” over the nuclear issue, hinting at a desire to speed up the talks. This course of action will put all of Tehran’s bargaining chips, including Hezbollah, on the table; moreover, Russia’s “slowness” in implementing the agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons will give Iran the opportunity to embark on a new path that it has decided on. The issue of the post-Assad era in Syria will depend on progress on this front. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.

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