Which is better for Iran, Syria or the nuclear deal?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry paved the way for Iran to participate in the peace talks when he visited Israel on Jan. 4

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - the man who never travels outside Iran, even to perform the hajj pilgrimage, who doesn’t establish social relations and who hasn’t delivered statements to the press ever since he’s became supreme leader - is considered difficult to predict. This man, who enjoys much power, can turn any page he doesn’t like to read or any page of history which disappoints him.

In this context, he was disappointed and frustrated because Iran did not receive an official invitation to attend the Geneva II conference on Syria scheduled at the end of January. In response, the supreme leader said he was not optimistic that Iran’s talks with the United States would succeed.

At a meeting held in Qom on Thursday, Jan. 9, Khamenei said the U.S.’s hostility during negotiations was clearly visible.

Khamenei was referring to the talks held between Iran and Western powers on the former’s nuclear program. The result of these talks was Iran’s victory in sealing an interim agreement - for the duration of six months - with the P5+1 group. What attracts attention is that the meeting in which Khamenei made these statements was held on the same day when Iran and the P5+1 group resumed nuclear talks in Geneva to follow up on the technical aspects of the deal.


Pressure the West

In the meantime, it seems that the supreme leader is using the nuclear agreement as a tool to pressure the West, particularly the United States. Khamenei’s comment regarding the U.S.’s hostility towards Iran can only be interpreted as a threat of Iran’s withdrawal from nuclear talks. It seems that the situation in Syria and the presence of a government that is friends with the regime in Tehran is more important for Khamenei than sealing a nuclear deal with Western powers. The supreme leader and his allies may have expected more from the U.S.. They were thus disappointed because they considered the U.S.’s manner of asking Iran to attend the conference as devoid of respect, and this wasn’t exactly what Iran had in mind!

Those participating in the conference are Bashar al-Assad’s opponents and countries which support them. The other camp consists of the Syrian regime and its supporters; Russia and Iran.

We don’t know if Iran really agrees with the idea of Assad’s exit from power and with the idea of establishing a transitional government

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

It is worth noting that all participants in the Geneva I conference have agreed on “the necessity of Assad’s departure” but while adopting a method that facilitates this departure by forming a transitional government.

We don’t know if Iran really agrees with the idea of Assad’s exit from power and with the idea of establishing a transitional government - but keep in mind that any party which desires to participate in the Geneva II conference must accept the suggestion of establishing a transitional government.

Paving the way

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry paved the way for Iran to participate in the peace talks when he visited Israel on Jan. 4. Kerry said: “Could Iran contribute from the sidelines to the conference? Are there ways for them conceivably to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva be there in order to help the process? It may be that this could happen, but that has to be determined by the U.N. secretary-general. It has to be determined by [Iranians] themselves.”

Perhaps Kerry’s suggestion on Iran’s participation is not an official invitation to attend the conference. On the ministerial level, this is considered the best means and the least controversial means for Iran. This is what Kerry meant when he said: “This has to be determined by the U.N. secretary-general, and it has to be determined by [Iranians] themselves.”

It seems Iran wasn’t looking forward to being invited that way. Meanwhile, in countries neighboring Syria, like Israel and Lebanon, there are increasing fears of the activity of extremist groups. Nothing bad has happened in Israel yet, but Lebanon’s stability has been harmed a few times. Areas controlled by Hezbollah in Lebanon were, in recent months, targeted by the Syrian opposition or its supporters. Hezbollah’s fighters in Syria are fighting alongside the regime against the rebels. The proxy war between Assad’s opponents and supporters may drag Lebanon towards a second civil war - that is if the crisis in Syria continues.

It’s certain that Israel’s security hasn’t yet been jeopardized, but it’s not guaranteed that its borders won’t be attacked in the near future by extremist Islamic groups. Therefore, there’s a mutual interest for Iran and the U.S. - for Israel’s and Hezbollah’s sake - to shake hands and resolve the crisis in Syria. According to this, Iran is significant to U.S. interests.

Iran agrees to the nuclear agreement for the sake of restraining its controversial nuclear program and playing a bigger and more official role in the region. If the U.S. rejects cooperation and working with Iran when it comes to regional issues, then the supreme leader’s threat of breaking the nuclear agreement - which he sees as an important agreement to the West - will be worrying. Therefore, the question is: who really benefitted from this temporary nuclear agreement? What will happen should this agreement collapse? Should we expect a new crisis to come to the fore between Iran and Western powers?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 10, 2014.


Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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