News / Middle East

    Could US, Iran Agree On Syria Without Assad?

    Iranian President Hasan Rouhani speaks at his first press conference since taking office at the presidency compound in Tehran, Iran,  Aug. 6, 2013.
    Iranian President Hasan Rouhani speaks at his first press conference since taking office at the presidency compound in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 6, 2013.
    More than two years after President Barack Obama said it was time for Syria’s president to go, Bashar al-Assad is still in power in Damascus. But new evidence from the United Nations pointing to his regime’s large-scale use of chemical weapons makes it more plausible that Assad could leave office as part of an international peace plan.
     
    In the aftermath of last weekend’s Russian-American deal to remove and destroy Assad’s large chemical weapons arsenal, members of the Syrian opposition and their supporters have complained bitterly that the agreement insures that Assad stays in power to insure implementation of the plan through the middle of 2014. However, the new international opprobrium attached to the Syrian leader because of the gassing of hundreds of civilians outside Damascus Aug. 21 is undercutting his support among even his most ardent allies, especially Iran, itself the victim of Iraqi poison gas attacks during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
     
    Long before the latest revelations, Iranian officials have signaled their willingness to see a new face in charge in Damascus – so long as Iranian interests are protected by an Assad successor.
     
    Asked a year ago why Iran was supporting a regime that at the time had killed about 20,000 people, Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament said,  “Who are you to say [that Assad should go]? Leave it to the votes of the people.”
     
    Signal of Iranian shift on Syria?

    A year later, after the deaths of more than 100,000 Syrians including more than a thousand killed by poison gas,  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 16 told  commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps – which has been assisting Assad in battling the rebels – that Iran would accept the results of promised 2014 presidential elections in Syria.
     
    “Whoever Syrian citizens vote for to rule their country, we’ll agree with it,” Rouhani said, according to the Iranian state news agency.
     
    There are certainly many questions about whether and how Syria could hold an election in the middle of a civil war. But in discussions with the Russians and the United Nations, among others, over the past year, U.S. officials have spoken of the need for Assad to be replaced initially by a national unity government led by someone not personally involved in crimes against the Syrian people.
     
    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated the US view on Tuesday (Sept. 17):
     
    “Our position has not changed, that there’s no place in a future Syria for President Assad. He’s brutalized his people. More than 100,000 men, women, and children have died while he’s been president of the country. There is, of course, a goal we have in place, to put in place a transitional governing body.”
     
    Psaki went on to say that Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.N. special representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi have been working out the parameters for a Geneva peace conference to create such a transitional government.
     
    “If a transitional governing body is put in place, they would be implementing this,” Psaki said, referring to the chemical weapons disarmament agreement.
     
    One way to facilitate a transition would be for Assad – who has run unopposed for president twice since his father, Hafez, died in 2000 – to announce that he will not seek another seven-year term as president.
     
    Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa is one of the names being mentioned as a possible successor to President Bashar al-Assad.Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa is one of the names being mentioned as a possible successor to President Bashar al-Assad.
    x
    Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa is one of the names being mentioned as a possible successor to President Bashar al-Assad.
    Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa is one of the names being mentioned as a possible successor to President Bashar al-Assad.
    Names such as that of Syria’s Sunni vice president, Farouk as-Sharaa have been floated as possible replacements. At a security conference in Washington last week held under ground rules that forbid attributing quotations to individuals, one expert said he was told by a Rouhani adviser that what was needed was a Syrian “Karzai” – a reference to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was picked by multilateral negotiators to lead Afghanistan in late 2001.
     
    Another expert suggested quiet talks among Saudis, Iranians and Americans over how to choreograph a transition from Assad. Such talks would recall the meetings in Bonn in 2001 when then Iranian deputy foreign minister (now foreign minister) Mohammad Javad Zarif worked closely with U.S. diplomat James Dobbins on Afghanistan’s post-Taliban transition.
     
    Iran has been preparing for Assad’s removal for a long time, grooming Shiite and Alawite militias that would protect Iran’s equities in Syria, especially its relationship with the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah. While Syria is important for Iran’s regional security posture, there is scant Iranian public support for the alliance and even less attachment to Assad personally.
     
    Indifference has turned to anger, as Iranians have watched their limited hard currency earnings sent to prop up the Assad regime, and to hatred following the use of chemical weapons. Most Iranians know someone who was killed or injured by poison gas during the Iran-Iraq war. “They can take your life away from you when you’re living,” was how one war veteran described the ordeal recently to the Washington Post.
     
    Chemical attacks make a difference

    While the Iranian government has not publicly accepted U.S. allegations that Assad was responsible for the Aug. 21 attacks outside Damascus, the publication of the U.N. report on Monday – which showed that the trajectory of rockets used to carry sarin gas indicated that they came from the regime stronghold of Mount Qasioun -- has influenced Iran’s political elite, according to a well-placed Tehran analyst.
     
    Secretary of State John Kerry has cut a deal with Russia on Syria. Can he do the same with Iran?Secretary of State John Kerry has cut a deal with Russia on Syria. Can he do the same with Iran?
    x
    Secretary of State John Kerry has cut a deal with Russia on Syria. Can he do the same with Iran?
    Secretary of State John Kerry has cut a deal with Russia on Syria. Can he do the same with Iran?
    If Iran were to be included in the negotiations over an Assad replacement, it would also signify U.S. acceptance of Iran’s important role in regional security, something that could facilitate nuclear talks with Iran as well.
     
    A missing piece up until now has been a coherent Syrian opposition that could take part in negotiations about a post-Assad Syria. So far, the opposition has refused to sit down with representatives of the Assad government, but that could change if there were assurances that Assad would step down.
     
    Psaki noted Tuesday that the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) – the body recognized by the United States and its allies as representing non-extremist opponents of Assad – had elected a provisional prime minister, Ahmad Tumeh, who will try to set up a government in northern Syrian territory under opposition control. The SOC, Psaki said, is also “working to develop a comprehensive transition plan that includes preservation of state institutions and guarantees for all citizens following the end of the Assad regime.”
     
    Since no one wants to have to take responsibility for rebuilding Syria, that means that U.S., Iranian and Russian goals converge in a desire to preserve as much of the Syrian state as possible if/when Assad goes.

      (To see more of Barbara Slavin's columns, click on the link below.)

    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Nielsen's, Sina Weibo Team Up for Closer Look at Chinese Social Media

    US-based rating agency reaches deal with China's Twitter-like service to gauge marketing effectiveness on platform which has more than 200 million users

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: change Iran Now from: Los Angeles
    September 20, 2013 1:59 AM
    Iranians have every right to be mad as they watch their limited hard currency earnings sent to prop up the Assad regime.Passage by the House of another round of toughened sanctions comes against a backdrop of evidence that Iran has consciously used sanctions to bludgeon its own people to make points with the global press. While its people can’t access capital, Iran offers a $3.6 billion credit line to Syria. While its people can’t find employment, Iran builds and operates 5,000 new centrifuges to enrich uranium and while hyperinflation wracks the economy, Iran dabbles in credit swaps to bolster its support for Hezbollah and now Hamas. The only real long term solution to Iran is regime change either at the ballot box or through street demonstrations just like the rest of the Arab world.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora