Iran Must be at Syrian Peace Talks

Last week, the great and good at the UN made complete fools of themselves, first inviting Iran to participate in the Syrian peace talks in Geneva and then uninviting Iran. Blame is flying fast and furious around the globe. Iran blames the US, and America says Iran failed to accept the terms required on the purpose of the talks — creating a transitional government in Syria, established by the mutual consent of the Damascus regime and its political opponents. None of that is really important, but without Iran in the mix somehow, there won’t be a solution.

Neither the US nor Iran disputes the conditions of the kerfuffle. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said, “During the last week, [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon contacted me several times and I clearly told him that we would not accept any precondition to attend the Geneva conference.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post stated, “Secretary of State John F. Kerry personally lobbied Ban to rescind the invitation, and U.S. officials suggested that Washington would pull out if Iran was there, jeopardizing an event that has taken eight months of negotiations to bring to fruition.” The paper based the assertion on interviews with top State Department Officials.

This one-day meeting is not that big a deal, in all honesty. One agrees with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said withdrawing the invitation was “unseemly” but not a “catastrophe.” Syria is not going to get fixed in a day, or a week, or a month, and it may not be fixed this year. The talks on Wednesday are, at best, the first hesitant steps toward ending the murderous civil war there.

To finally solve the problem, a negotiated settlement requires the acquiescence of all the concerned parties. Every party will feel it gave up some things and got some things in return. However, it will not work, the deal will not take, if one or more parties is not at the table when these things are decided. The question is “what interest does Iran have in Syria that would create a legitimate reason for participation?”

Iran and Syria have been strategic allies since the Iran-Iraq war from the 1980s. In 2006, Syria and Iran signed an agreement to cooperate against “common threats” (Israel and America, really). Syrian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said “Iran considers Syria’s security its own security, and we consider our defense capabilities to be those of Syria.” The two are economic partners as well, with Iran working on development projects in Syria that include car and cement factories, grain silo construction and power plants. Iran also supplies Syria with military equipment.

Clearly, Iran is going to consider any agreement on Syria to which it is not a party null and void. It will do as it pleases, and that can undermine the entire efforts of the rest of the world. Some have said that there is a “Plan B” in Iran’s foreign ministry that would support the fragmentation of Syria and support for an Alawite (Shi’ite, sort of) state in the event the current regime falls. A fragmented Syria means a Syria where the violence persists as boundaries get drawn and redrawn. That’s in the interests of almost no one.

This journal has no love of the Iranian regime and even less for the al-Assad criminals. Yet, Cromwell’s dictum that necessity hath no law applies. A negotiated settlement means Iran must be a participant in the discussions. Perhaps, it doesn’t need to participate in Wednesday’s one-day discussions, but at some point, it needs an invitation.