Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger wrote in The Atlantic that a Finnish fighter of Somali descent called “on all the Muslims living in the West, America, Europe, and everywhere else, to come, to make hijra with your families to the land of Khilafah,…Here, you go for fighting and afterwards you come back to your families. And if you get killed, then … you’ll enter heaven, God willing, and Allah will take care of those you’ve left behind. So here, the caliphate will take care of you.” The World Post, in Feb. 2015, said “U.S. intelligence officials believe that over 150 American citizens and residents have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria as foreign fighters.” The numbers have risen since then.
As ISIS grows more unmanageably powerful on the Syrian territory, the role of Iran only seems to become more crucial to bringing stability, if not peace, in Syria. The U.S. invited the Iranian diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif “to take part in multilateral talks in Vienna this past Friday, Oct. 30, reversing its long-standing opposition to involving President Bashar al-Assad‘s closest ally in discussions about his future,” BBC reporter Kasra Naji explained.
Two years ago, Iran was not invited to Syrian peace talks due to many nations’ opposition, including the United States. “Now, with Iran’s enhanced standing in the aftermath of the nuclear agreement, Mr. Kerry appears to be testing whether a broader basis for cooperation is possible,” The New York Times said.
Even though the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei publicly sides with the hard-liners — “anti-Westerners” and considering the U.S. “the Great Satan” — he has given some space to President Hassan Rouhani to engage more openly with the rest of the world.
Iranian news media announced on Wednesday Oct. 28, that Iran will take part in the discussions concerning Syria, their longtime ally. According to The New York Times, this news sent “an ambiguous signal at home” because a few weeks before, “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any new talks with the United States were forbidden.” Khamenei has always described the U.S. “as a persistent enemy of the Islamic revolution,” and insisted that despite the nuclear agreement, “it needed to be kept at a distance.”
According to some Iranian political analysts, the multilateral talks about Syria are not contradicting Khamenei’s dictums. “Our leader has banned the bilateral relations between Iran and America or any negotiation aimed at resuming relations,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a close political analyst to the ayatollah in Tehran. “Case-by-case negotiations or finding solutions for regional problems on a multilateral basis is all right,” Taraghi explained to The New York Times.
The Wall Street Journal explained that during an interview, Assad told the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network that the partnership “must succeed, otherwise we are facing the destruction of the entire region and not just one or two states.” Since, in the recent months, many media outlets explained that the Russian military has been mainly launching airstrikes against Assad’s opponents in Syria, instead of explicitly targeting ISIS. Iran has reportedly sent “hundreds of combat troops to join assaults on rebel-held areas, the political chessboard has been transformed,” Naji said. Russia and Iran have promised to not give up on their Syrian friend, Assad.
The change in U.S. policy intensified the existing controversies, and extended the political dividends of July’s nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers. Russia was the initial advocate to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, asking for the Iranian participation and trying to help lift Washington’s past objections to Iran’s involvement. Iran’s participation in the talks demonstrates the speed at which the dynamics of the war drastically changed the initial beliefs of each country. Thomas Erdbrink, Sewell Chan and David E. Sanger, explain in The New York Times that “Clearly worried about the military support that Russia and Iran are providing to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, the United States has concluded that the only hope for easing Mr. Assad from power is to find a political solution with his two sponsors.”
Kerry met with the Russian, Turkish and Saudi officials on Oct. 23 in Vienna to review different possibilities for ending Syria’s war. Inevitably, “the fate of the Syrian president” was one of the topics brought up, Naji said. Both Iran and Russia, believing that Assad is a main character to any political transition in Syria, had to face the other side of the table with the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as Syria’s main opposition alliance, who were strictly opposed to such idea. Iran and Russia also believe that if not permanently, but at least temporarily, Assad must remain in power for as long as needed to undermine the jihadist group Islamic State (ISIS) and maintain national unity. Fortunately for Assad’s supporters, “The U.S. has also said it could live with a political transition in Syria that would leave Mr. Assad temporarily in power, potentially removing an obstacle to building international consensus,” BBC said.
When Assad was asked “whether he would manage Syria’s crisis differently if he could return to the start of the conflict in 2011, he said that the past four and a half years had been a lesson,” WST said. Assad also added that “Every national crisis is a very rich lesson to the officials, to the population and to society in general.”
Many define the difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region “as being at the heart of the deepening conflicts in the Middle East.” According to some reports mentioned by the BBC, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, only a few hours before the meeting with Iran, pleaded to Kerry that he was not willing to meet with Iranian leaders to discuss Syria’s fate. Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia gave its acquiescence to Iran’s involvement in the talks in Vienna without much resistance. Peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia could potentially end war in Syria, and many hope for the talks in Vienna to offer a way to calm the historic rivalry between these two major opponents.
Prior to the official meeting with the U.S., “Iran has been pushing a four-point plan for Syria that calls for a ceasefire, followed by the formation of a national unity government, constitutional reforms and, finally, free elections,” according to BBC. The plan could, conceivably, “now be used as a basis for further discussions.” Today, the Iranian government seems to have received the green light from both the U.S and most Sunnis, opening more concrete doors to fight ISIS. Though Iran’s intentions with Assad are still blurry, more evidence prove that the Iranian involvement alongside the other nations fighting ISIS is necessary.
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