U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan took an unthinkable step by visiting Tehran and Iraq. After years of branding Iran as an element of instability, some turn to Iran to help put an end to the Syrian crisis.
For Annan, “Iran can play a positive role” in bringing an end to long-standing standoff between Assad’s troops and the rebels. Therefore, Iran should be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis. Not surprisingly, Iran has a different objective in resolving the Syrian crisis. The survival of Assad is a paramount goal for Iranian diplomacy. Therefore, Annan’s move making Iran a stakeholder in the Syrian conflict has potential pitfalls. Over the last 17 bloody months, Tehran has been a key part of the problem.
Many ponder as to what happened to Annan and why did he take this unusual step. Does he really believe that Tehran — a stalwart ally of the Alawite regime — will play a role that can facilitate the transition of power in Syria? “I have received encouragement and cooperation from the minister and the government and am looking forward to continue working together to resolve this conflict,” Annan said during his visit to Tehran.
It seems that Annan has failed to see the real issue. First, Iran will never make a scapegoat of the Syrian regime without a clear price that Annan cannot offer. The Iranian support of Assad should be seen within the context of the Western-Iranian relationship. The two sticking points in the Western-Iranian relationship have to do with the insistence of Iran on going nuclear and the sanctions imposed on Tehran. Obviously, Annan cannot lift the sanctions on Iran even if Tehran offers to help the West on Syria. The region as a whole may not tolerate a nuclear Iran as key countries are trying to avert the scenario of arms race.
Equally important, there are a lot of sensitivities in the region of any Iranian role in the conflict. The working assumption in the Middle East is that Iran seeks a hegemonic status in the region. Annan needs to understand the region better. The last thing the region wants to see is an acknowledgement of Iran’s centrality in Syria and the region.
Also, Annan needs to realize that the threat perception in the Arab region is high. If you ask a layman in the Gulf regarding the looming threat on the Gulf, you will find people pointing finger at Iran. We are not yet sure as what kind of quid pro quo Annan can offer Tehran for the latter’s acceptance to play a “positive” role in Syria.
Implicit in this ill-advised step is the fact that Annan got tired from beating around the bush. In his bid to solve the Syrian problem, Annan has not done a lot. His plan has gone nowhere! Since he stepped up his effort to defuse the crisis, more Syrians got killed. The toll is so high and yet Annan is courting Iran to play a constructive and positive role in Syria.
Recently, Annan has been behaving in a weird way. His most recent insistence that diplomacy is going to work is naïve to say the least. Last Monday, Annan told journalists that his meeting with Assad was fruitful.
He claimed that he had established an approach for putting an end to violence. How many times does Annan needs to try with Assad to realize that the latter is buying time and has no real intention to carry out reform and transition of power?
I think that Annan got it wrong this time. Tehran is not going to help Annan succeed in dislodging their close ally in Damascus. “Inviting Iran to discuss how to best transition to a post-Assad Syria is akin to inviting vegetarians to a barbecue,” Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst told the AP. I agree with Sadjadpour’s statement.
Soon, Annan will realize that courting Iran and the pro-Syrian Iraqi prime minister was a waste of time. Both Iranian leaders and the Iraqi prime minister attach no significance for putting an end to the bloodshed in Syria unless the survival of Assad is guaranteed. Their calculation is very simple: As long as there is no military intervention Assad can hold. In this case, why on earth will they help Annan in his mission?!
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in Arab News on July 13, 2012