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UMMA / Iran’s overture to the West on Syria
Date of publication at Tlaxcala: 15/08/2012
Translations available: Português 

Iran’s overture to the West on Syria

MK Bhadrakumar


 The opinion-piece that appeared this week in the Washington Post (see below)  authored by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was pointedly addressed to the western powers. The thought processes are complex and yet rather direct — a mix of warnings and overtures.

The timing of the WaPo piece merits attention: Kofi Annan’s mission has been wound up and Lakhdar Brahimi is stepping out of the woodwork. Brahimi is the West’s preferred specialist in conflicts involving the Islamist forces — Lebanon, Afghanistan readily come to mind. He has a consistent track record of creating the illusion of negotiations where none exists, while the real contestation continues undisturbed on the battle field. Kofi is too independent, while Brahimi is a time-server. The West badly wants Brahimi at the moment.

Second, the Syrian strife is switching gear. The civil war is just about commencing in right earnest. The supply of stinger missiles by Turkey to the Syrian rebels is meant to be a game changer. Against this backdrop, the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s weekend visit to Istanbul is highly symbolic, too. It was meant to shore up Turkish leadership’s sagging morale. Having said that, Tehran sizes that there could also be soul-searching going on in the West — including in Washington — as to what lies ahead. By now, Tehran is used to Clinton’s rhetoric as the cloud cover for angst. 

Third, Russia and China have receded to the background and are catching up with their routine life. Thus, the peace arena is empty. The floodlights are on but the stage is empty. And Iran walks in with an overture that is tantalizing in its lethal attraction. 
It is difficult to be plainly dismissive about the Iranian offer, while it is also an intriguing offer to approach the door that could possibly open into the rose-garden. Of course, it is an offer that doesn’t suit the United States — and probably, Salehi knows it too, but there is no harm still trying. 
Salehi warns that Iran won’t allow a cakewalk over Syria for the US and Turkey. The civil war will be nasty, bloody and protracted and it might even make the 15-year conflict in Lebanon seem a picnic. (By the way, out of the debris in Lebanon rose the Hezbullah.) Obviously, the stakes are high for Iran beacuse it lives in its region and Iran will safeguard its core interests no matter what it takes. But can the West or Turkey afford a protracted conflict in Lebanon?
Salehi underscores that the use of islamism as instrument of policy won’t work, either. Because, Iran is a natural ally of these forces of history, whereas the US and Turkey are not. That is to say, in the longer run, Iran only can win in Syria (or Egypt) whether there is a regime change or not. Besides, Afghanistan also testifies to the blowback that is inevitable if the Christian world tries to manipulate the Islamist forces. 
However, Iran is willing to cooperate with the West since its interest lies primarily in regional stability and a level playing field. Therefore, it is willing to play the same role it played in assisting the US invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime and in showing such extraordinary self-restraint in Iraq (where it could have made things much more bloodier for the Americans if it wanted.)
The big issue is what is the nature of the ‘cooperation’ Tehran has in mind. Salehi makes it clear that Iran finds it unacceptable that Bashar should overnight step down. There has to be some clarity as to what happens in the downstream before Bashar steps down. Besides, Bashar is also part of the Syrian nation and has his rights too. 
Therefore, Salehi taunts the West with a proposition: The international community should compel Bashar to stand for an election to the post of president in his country in a free and fair election that is held under international supervision. After all, it is for the Syrian nation to reject him. 
Now, would Salehi’s proposal find acceptance in Washington or Ankara (Istanbul), Riyadh or Doha? The answer is a resounding ‘No’. The spectre that is haunting the West is that in a free and fair election, Syrians may well opt for Bashar as the anchor sheet of stability for their country. Surely, the TINA factor comes into play — ‘There Is No Alternative’ to Bashar if the fragile multicultural society that Syria is to hold together. 
Besides, a free and fair election in Syria (on top of the one that took place in Egypt with such an awkward outcome) will be anathema to the Gulf Arab sheikhs. It is a dangerous idea that a head of state should be an elected figure. If the pernicious idea works in Syria, Saudi people might well wonder why they too can’t have such a prerogative in the second decade of the 21st century. Quite obviously, the US also will not want to let out the genie. Salehi has played a good hand. The WaPo opinion piece is here.

Taking the lead on Syria

By Ali Akbar Salehi, The Washington Post, 8/8/2012

We humans often make the mistake of not learning from history, even when it is recent. Civil war in the Levant is not a thing of the distant past. With Syria descending into worsening violence, the 15-year Lebanese civil war should provide frightening lessons of what happens when the fabric of a society unravels.

When the Islamic Awakening — also known as the Arab Spring — began in December 2010, we all saw people rising up to claim their rights. We have witnessed the emergence of civic movements demanding freedom, democracy, dignity and self-determination.

We in Tehran have watched these developments with delight. After all, a civic movement demanding the same things that many Arabs want today is what led to the emergence of our Islamic Republic in 1979. During the past three decades, Iran has consistently underlined that it is the duty of all governments to respect their people’s demands. We have maintained this position as the Islamic Awakening has unfolded, without any lopsided shifts depending on the location of these civic movements. We have been in favor of change to meet people’s demands, whether in Syria or Egypt or anywhere else.

But what do some other members of the international community want for Syria? Unfortunately, there have been conflicting responses to the civic movements sweeping the Arab world. A glaring example of these contradictions lies in Bahrain and the way some states have responded to the crackdown on the uprising there.

The European response to the Syrian crisis has been particularly contradictory. Little, if anything, is said about the increasing presence of armed extremists in Syria. Even while preoccupied with the rising extremism in Afghanistan, thousands of miles away, European leaders seem unconcerned that they may soon have an Afghanistan on their doorstep.

To borrow the words of my respected friend Kofi Annan, who recently resigned from his post as special U.N. envoy to the Syrian conflict after seeing his peacemaking efforts continuously undermined, military means alone won’t end the crisis, and a political agenda that is neither inclusive nor comprehensive will also fail.

Iran seeks a solution that is in the interest of everyone. Syrian society is a beautiful mosaic of ethnicities, faiths and cultures, and it will be smashed to pieces should President Bashar al-Assad abruptly fall. The idea that, in that event, there would be an orderly transition of power is an illusion.

Although Annan’s efforts to end the crisis have been terminated, his six-point plan for political change is alive and well. Why should seeds of discord continue to be planted when the situation can be resolved rationally, through wisdom and providence? Those backing violence in Syria fail to see that whatever they seek through their actions won’t materialize.

Abrupt political change without a roadmap for managed political transition will lead only to a precarious situation that would destabilize one of the world’s most sensitive regions. Iran is part of the solution, not the problem. As the world has witnessed during the past decade, we have acted as a stabilizing force in Iraq and Afghanistan, two other Muslim countries thrown into turmoil. The stability of our region is paramount for world peace and tranquillity.

Some world powers and certain states in the region need to stop using Syria as a battleground for settling scores or jostling for influence. The only way out of the stalemate is to offer Syrians a chance to find a way out themselves.

Taking Annan’s six-point plan into consideration, Iran looks forward to bringing like-minded countries together to implement three essential points: Ensure an immediate cease-fire to stop the bloodshed, dispatch humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and prepare the ground for dialogue to solve the crisis.

I hereby announce Iran’s readiness to host a meeting of countries committed to immediately implementing these steps in hopes of ending the violence. As part of our commitment to resolve the crisis, I also reiterate our willingness to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and the opposition and to host such a dialogue.

Moreover, in line with Annan’s six-point plan, I once again declare Iran’s support for political reform in Syria that will allow the Syrian people to decide their destiny. This includes ensuring that they have the right to participate in the upcoming free and fair presidential election under international supervision.

As the holy month of Ramadan nears its end, I pray that Syrians will get to break their fast in peace and stability sooner rather than later — for their own interests and those of the world.   

Courtesy of Indian Punchline
Publication date of original article: 12/08/2012
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