Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Sidelining Iran

The Syrian crisis has put implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement on the back burner and delayed Iranian diplomatic efforts in the region, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

The nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, which was supposed to be a turning point and improve the country’s relations with the West, is still in limbo because the Syrian crisis is delaying its implementation.

As a result, hopes that Iran’s “active diplomacy” would help tackle the crisis in the Middle East have been jeopardised by events such as Russia’s military intervention in Syria and the death of Iranian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

As a strategic ally of Russia, it has been difficult for Iran to discuss regional matters with the US, and the opportunity to improve relations with Saudi Arabia was lost when over 500 Iranians were killed in the recent Mecca stampede.

There was no proposal to discuss matters in Syria when Iranian leaders visiting New York during the United Nations 70th General Assembly were busy with implementation of the nuclear agreement.

Given the close relations between Damascus and Tehran and the importance of the support received by Hezbollah in Lebanon through this channel, Iran showed no trace of diplomatic changes or interest in talking about the Syrian crisis in New York.

For Russia, keeping Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in power is not a matter of pleasing Tehran. Syria is Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East, and the resistance against Al-Assad’s removal from power is part of the country’s regional competition with the United States.

Yet, after almost five years of war, not only has Syria been torn to pieces but the world is also now facing a new challenge with the Syrian refugee crisis. There is also the global threat of terrorism represented by the Islamic State (IS) group and its extremist ideology, which is a greater danger than Al-Qaeda was ten years ago.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2000 and the safe haven it provided to terrorists from around the world is an example to be compared with the situation in Syria and Iraq. Today, most regional countries, no matter what interest they have in Syria, see themselves as subject to the threat of IS, no matter their power or influence.

US President Barack Obama said on the opening day of the General Assembly of the UN in New York that he is willing to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict in Syria.

In late July, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Tehran. He then said that once the Vienna Agreement is put into effect, the next step will be to campaign against terrorism and bring a halt to war and bloodshed in the region.

The Vienna Agreement is not totally implemented, and the regional crisis affects not only the region but also the international community, and the UN has not found a solution to prevent more bloodshed. To avoid the direct consequences of supporting the Al-Assad regime, Iran has encouraged Russia to take action on its behalf.

As a result of the success of the Iran nuclear talks with the West, not only have business opportunities opened up for Iran, but also political opportunities to play a greater role in the region.

Obama frequently repeated his interest in having a dialogue with Iran to solve regional matters. Because of a lack of trust or loss of momentum, however, Iran has not seized the opportunity to engage in diplomacy of the type it demonstrated during the nuclear negotiations.

Of course the tragedy in Mecca also fuelled regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but observers see a chance for direct regional dialogue once the temper of the public and the politicians has decreased.

Historically, Iranians are distrustful towards the Russians. If they have any business or friendly talks with them, part of their minds are still likely to be suspicious of their northern neighbour, uncertain of its real aim in collaborating with Iran.

In the matter of Syria, the two countries have a shared interest in keeping Al-Assad in power. But Iran’s interest in the region is much greater than simply supporting a president, and any wrongdoing by Russia could indirectly harm Iran.

While for some nations such a state of limbo could be a perfect reason to struggle with each other, lots of changes are likely to come, even if these are not welcomed by the regional powers.

Within a year and a half, the United States will have a new president, and if the crisis remains the same as it is today, solving the problem will be the next president’s priority. Time is running out for those nations that believe the crisis could help them establish their own power and influence.

President Rouhani will make his first official visit to Europe in mid-November, when he visits France on the invitation of the French president. The two leaders are expected to discuss the crisis in Syria.

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