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Engaging Iran in Syria

Bottom Line: The Syrian army has resumed its offensive with renewed vigor after the US backed down from a decision to strike Syria and accept a Russian diplomatic solution in the form of chemical weapons inspections, but there is more to this than meets the eye: There are indirect talks with Iran, and what appears to have been a failed rebel offensive launched from Jordan.

Iran SyriaAnalysis: Washington is bringing Tehran into the diplomatic Syrian cocktail, envisioning the use of Iran to actually promote a regime chance peacefully in Syria, once it is clear that Assad no longer has legitimacy, which would ostensibly be done via the chemical weapons inspections. In the midst of this, we learn that there was a defining incident right before the US backed down on a Syria strike: Reports are emerging that the US and other “foreign forces” sponsored a major rebel offensive launched from Jordan and intended to reach Damascus, which failed miserably, right before the US made its decision over whether to launch a strike on Syria. The rebels appear to have suffered considerable losses in this failed operation.

Recommendation: US-Iranian direct diplomatic engagement is gaining significant traction, so too is engagement between Western Europe and Iran. (Indeed, Iran already claims to be holding talks with an unnamed European country for gas supplies.) Over the weekend, an influential Iranian official (head of the parliamentary national security and foreign policy commission) actually suggested that the next round of Iranian nuclear talks be held in Tehran. The significance of this is it allows for the first visit by top US diplomats to Tehran since 1980—and it provides an easy way for “direct” talks between Washington and Tehran without making it look like Obama is weak on Iran. A day after this suggestion was made Tehran said that President Rouhani had agreed to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month, should Hague accept the offer. The disastrous rebel offensive launched from Jordan, aside, this is no longer Washington fumbling—bringing Iran into the diplomatic fray could be a brilliant play that forces Iran and Russia to face off (because they are not always the best of allies) and is the best chance of a solution for the conflict in Syria. Because at the end of the day, a US strike on Syria would not have decimated Assad, and even if it had, it wouldn’t have been devastating for Iran.




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