President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Iran should play a role in any political solution to Syria’s ongoing civil war, signalling a significant shift in US policy with respect to Syria.
“I think it’s important for them to be part of the conversation,” Obama said during a press conference Tuesday that was largely focused on the US and world partners’ deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama said countries with whom the US has disagreements in other areas — like Iran and Russia — as well as allies like the US’ Guld partners and Turkey would all have to “buy in” to any potential solution to the 52 month-long civil war.
“It’s gotten caught up in both sectarian conflict and geopolitical jockeying, and in order for us to resolve it, there’s going to have to be agreement among the major powers that are interested in Syria that this is not going to be won on the battlefield,” Obama said.
As Foreign Policy’s David Kenner noted, the US opposed Iran’s presence at a 2014 peace conference on Syria. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rescinded an invitation to Iran, and Iran promptly blamed the US for the about-face. And it was US Secretary of State John Kerry personally lobbied for Iran to be excluded from the conference, according to reports at the time.
Middle East experts have long said the Obama administration’s strategy with respect to the Syrian regime has been influenced by its desire to get a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.
Iran, along with Russia, have been the primary international backers and bank-rollers of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Obama continues to insist should step down. Iran has provided the regime with constant material and financial support for the duration of the civil war.
On Tuesday, after the nuclear deal was clinched, Assad congratulated Iran’s Supreme Leader, and said he expected Iran to increase its financial support.
Even while under heavy US and EU sanctions, Iran has been able to supply Syria with billions of dollars in weapons and cash as well as around 60,000 barrels of oil per day. It has also reportedly dispatched hundreds of illegal Afghan immigrants to fight in Syria, and it has been estimated recently that around 7,000 Iranian and Iraqi fighters were sent into Syria over just a few weeks in June.
Obama made clear several times during his press conference that the deal with Iran on its nuclear program did not mean that the US was re-establishing diplomatic relations with the Islamic republic. He contrasted that statement with the recent US shift toward Cuba.
“We have not, and I don’t anticipate anytime in the near future, restored normal diplomatic relations with Iran,” Obama said.
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