Iran Conference: Setting the Stage for Dialogue in Syria
A “Consultative Meeting on Syria” in Tehran aims to promote a Syrian political solution and establish a counterweight to the self-styled “Friends of Syria.”
Iran’s position on Syria is unchanged: the crisis can only have a Syrian solution, based on dialogue between the warring parties. It aims to persuade as many countries as possible to support that option, and establish an alternative to the coalition of states complicit in the bloodletting in Syria.
Iran is looking ahead to the aftermath of what it expects to be the Syrian regime’s “victory” in Aleppo. Once that is achieved, Tehran believes, the powers backing the rival sides in Syria will have no alternative but to negotiate.
Turkey’s position is crucial in this regard, as it would clearly have a major impact if it opted to intervene directly in the battle for Aleppo. This in turn explains the sudden and sharp deterioration in relations between Ankara and Tehran, with the latter threatening to freeze trade with the former.
The Iranians have been preparing for today’s “Consultative Meeting on Syria,” hosted by the Foreign Ministry, for around two weeks, according to Iranian sources. Their contacts focused on states that are “not directly complicit” in the Syrian crisis, in addition to Turkey, which was also invited.
The sources said outgoing UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was invited too, in the hope that he could be persuaded not to abandon his mission, but decided, apparently under pressure from various parties, not to attend.
On the eve of the conference, 20 countries were due to send delegates to the gathering, including Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan and India, and seven Arab states (Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Kuwait, the UAE, and Oman). Eight countries were to be represented by their foreign ministers, the others at a less senior level.
Lebanon decided not to take part in line with its policy of non-involvement in Syrian affairs. Iraq was to send high-level delegates other than Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who “represents the American face of the Iraqi regime,” according to the sources. But Iraqi diplomatic efforts led to an agreement that would have Zebari attend along with the minister of national security. The sources added that many of the countries invited had – like Annan, who initially agreed to attend – come under heavy pressure to stay away, or at least to lower the level of their representation.
The Iranian sources said the principal objective of the conference is to “bring the Syrian opposition and regime together around the negotiating table, with the aim of arriving at a Syrian solution to the crisis in Syria.”
They said Iran had obtained undertakings from “a fair number” of Syrian opposition groups to support such talks, as well as the endorsement of President Bashar al-Assad, who conferred in Damascus earlier this week with the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, Saeed Jalili.
“We want this conference to be a counter to the Enemies of Syria (Friends of Syria) group, which has been promoting militarization, violence and sectarianism,” they said. “The hope is to persuade the maximum number of states to encourage and take part in an intra-Syrian solution.”
The thinking in Tehran is that the Syrian regime is bound to prevail in the battle of Aleppo, and that “after that, the time will come for negotiations between the forces that wanted to destroy the Syrian state and bring down the regime, and the states that want to make a political solution succeed and find a Syrian way out of the crisis.” Thursday’s conference is part of a process of “preparing the ground for such negotiations.” [...]
It is significant that close US allies and supporters of the Syrian rebels – Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE and Tunisia – were to attend the Tehran conference. “That is the strongest evidence of the opposition front cracking, and of its willingness to enter into a dialogue once the dust has settled on the Battle of Aleppo,” they said. However, it seems that diplomatic pressure succeeded in the end in keeping Kuwait and UAE from participating. … Full article