Over four years have passed since the Syrian conflict started. Finally, almost all outside actors got together at the round table to discuss the situation trying to influence the way the events in Syria unfold. On October 30, 17 states, the United Nations and the European Union launched talks in Vienna. The parties with fundamentally opposing views joined in the negotiation process. Sergey Lavrov noted that the format of the meeting was almost “ideal” and Moscow is interested in keeping it this way. The next round of discussions was scheduled to be held within two weeks. Meanwhile forecasts are being made regarding the future of the parley. The most often asked question is – can the parties to the talks arrive at consensus?
The main thing seems to be reaching agreement between Russia and the United States– the two major actors. Some think that other participants will take sides choosing one of the two camps to join. It’s not easy with such regional players as Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Lebanon, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia making part of the Vienna format. Each of them sticks to its own position, sometimes quite different from those taken by Washington or Moscow.
The fact that Iran was invited and the following negative reaction of Saudi Arabia evoked special interest. This is the first time Tehran took part in the talks. Before Riyadh had always opposed the inclusion of Iran into the process. The White House used to take the side of Saudi Arabia and exclude Iran from negotiations. Now the United States had to make a concession. First, with the nuclear dossier closed, Iran has ceased to be isolated internationally. Second, Russia and the European Union insisted on Iran’s participation. Recently, the United Nations Secretary General has said many times that Iran was one of the players to hold a key to peaceful management of Syrian conflict. Finally, the air strikes launched by Russia and the Iranian ground forces fighting together with the Syrian army fundamentally change the correlation of forces in the war. The United States had to reconcile with the Iran’s participation in the talks. As it happened, no permission of the Saudi royal family was required.
Both, Washington and Tehran, are well aware that Saudi Arabia supports international terrorism. The United States silences this issue to prevent the deterioration of US-Saudi relationship. At the same time the US presents itself as the leading force in the fight against terror. In reality, the United States administration has contributed to the aggravation of Syrian crisis and the expansion of terrorist activities in the region. The Islamic Republic of Iran firmly insists on international recognition of the fact that third countries are responsible for unleashing the war in Syria. Tehran puts the blame on the United States and its allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia.
That’s what Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in Vienna. In his statement he pointed a finger at Saudi Arabia saying its citizens were directly involved in the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. His remarks stunned the audience and created a pause US Secretary John Kerry had to deal with. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir kept silent.
Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir responded a day later while addressing the 11th session of Manama Dialogue Forum, an international discussion club, held in the capital of Bahrain to unite politicians, military and experts from 30 countries. There the Minister slammed the idea of further participation of Iran in the talks. He put forward two preconditions – two “red lines” – for Tehran: it has to pull out its troops from Syria and make clear its position regarding when and under what conditions will Bashar Assad step down. According to Al-Jubeir, the participation of Iran in the peace management process is senseless if it does not comply with these demands. Tehran saw this statement as confirmation of the fact that the Saudi Arabia’s stance remains unaltered, as well as the policy aimed at supporting terrorist groups to weaken the regional rivals. According to Deputy Foreign MinisterHossein Amir–Abdollahian, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not exclude the possibility of refusal to take part in the future dialogue. “In the first round of talks, some countries, especially Saudi Arabia, played a negative and unconstructive role … Iran will not participate if the talks are not fruitful,”ISNA cited deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying.
Willy-nilly Russia will have to seek ways to prevent the Iran-Saudi animosity negatively impacting the process of political management in Syria. Whatever the odds are, it has to do its utmost.
The Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister stretched his “red lines” to Russia in his interview with Sky News Arabia, where he elaborated on the preconditions to be set for Iran’s participation in the peace talks on Syria – the position made public during the Manama Dialogue.It was to be anticipated. These days the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces strike the positions of the militants backed by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia wants Moscow to withdraw the military from Syria and define the time for Assad to step down – the same things it believes Tehran should do. Today this position will hardly be welcomed even in Washington.
Many things have changed in Syria since Russia launched its operation. The forces supported by Saudi Arabia have achieved little success on the battle field. But it’s not the main thing. Jabhatal Nusra, a group backed by Saudi Arabia, has been listed as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the United States and some other states. The list of terrorist groups is going to be extended in accordance with Russia’s proposal. Other allies of Saudi Arabia associated with Al Qaeda will be added to this list. The international community no longer considers the fight against them as an effort to keep the regime of Assad in power. The world is fighting terror. Not Iran only, but many other parties to the talks will find it inappropriate to discuss the issue of fight against terror with Saudi Arabia.
In any case, Russia does not have to choose between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Few people take at face value the Saudi version of events, which says that in Syria Sunni insurgents aided by the kingdom fight the regime of Bashar Assad backed by Shia Iran. The forces backed by Saudi Arabia are suffering defeat; the kingdom runs the risk of losing the ability to influence the situation in Syria. Actually, the loss of its relevance has become a matter of time. At that, Moscow sticks to the policy of maintaining a dialogue with the kingdom. Avoiding unnecessary casualties and finding a way to end the war – that’s what really matters. If reaching accords with Saudi Arabia is a prerequisite for reaching this goal, then the Kremlin is ready for that.
Since the very start, the war in Syria has never been a conflict sparked due to religious disagreements. It all started with the interference of outside forces – the radicals meddling into the internal affairs of this country. The extremists that have come from other countries are opposed by Syrians that is backed by Iran and supported by Russian aviation. Russia, Syria and Iran join together in the fight against the forces of terror. The Russia’s goal is to reach a political settlement in Syria, not throwing its support behind one of the sides aspiring for regional domination or involved in religious strife.