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Dunsmore: Syria and Iran


The Geneva talks between Syria and some of its rebels produced nothing tangible. Even efforts to reach temporary ceasefires to get food and medicines to civilians trapped in the three year civil war have failed. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both blamed the Russians for this impasse, while Republican critics of the president’s hands off policy in Syria are ratcheting up their demands that America do more to arm the rebels and to protect Syrian civilians.

Meantime, negotiations began in Vienna this week between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France plus Germany. These are the follow-on talks to the interim agreement recently reached to put some curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of a few of the severe international sanctions Iranians are currently facing. The goal now is to reach a final agreement that would end all of the sanctions - if Iran can prove to the world that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and not, as many suspect, to develop nuclear weapons.

Six months was initially allocated to reach such an agreement. But most observers believe that given the complexity of the issues- and the fact that both sides will have to make difficult concessions – that time may have to be extended. If these talks succeed, the world will be a safer place. If they fail, a new Middle East war, in which the United States would be directly involved, becomes quite possible.

So where does Syria fit into this? Given that Iran is heavily backing the Syrian regime, Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst and negotiator who served six secretaries of state, wrote this in a recent op-ed.

“Simply put, to have any chance of getting things done with Iran, America needs to be talking with the Iranians - not shooting at them in Syria or anywhere else. Indeed, the last thing Obama wants or can afford now is direct military intervention in Syria that would lead to a proxy war,” with Iran.

In Miller’s view, that is why President Obama has strongly resisted American military involvement in Syria – because he considers a nuclear deal with Iran paramount to anything else he could possibly accomplish in the Middle East.

An Iran nuclear agreement would head off a potential war - and might even lead to new stability in the region including in Syria.

Miller is sympathetic to the president’s priorities and even makes a compelling case for them. Still he concludes, “Based on my time in government and the world in which we live, I very much doubt Obama will succeed. These days, that kind of heroic diplomacy just doesn't seem possible. I can only hope that the Iranian thing actually works out.”

I devoutly share that hope, because in the past decade alone we’ve seen more than enough evidence of the incalculable costs and ultimate futility of massive American military intervention.