United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Willing to Accept Syrian Peace Talks?

Jubin Goodarzi
      Iran may be searching for an exit strategy in Syria. Tehran initially supported President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on the rebels since Syria is a frontline against the West and Israel. But Iran’s position on the conflict has evolved since fighting erupted in mid-2011. Tehran actually now has several incentives to support Syrian peace negotiations. Talks could prevent the spillover of violence into Iraq and Lebanon, both countries where Shiites have a strong political presence. Tehran might also be able to press for a national unity government that is not be hostile to Iran, while building up regional goodwill. The following is a rundown of the numbers game on Iran’s involvement in Syria since the crisis erupted in March 2011.

Iran’s Position on Syria has evolved through five phases:
  • Spring 2011 – Tehran issued steadfast support for President Bashar Assad.
  • Summer 2011 – Iran showed the first public signs of doubts, including negotiations with the Syrian opposition.
  • Fall 2011 to Winter 2012 – The conflict emerged as a proxy way. Iran demonstrated stalwart support for the Assad regime.
  • Spring/Summer 2012 – Tehran publically supported multilateral negotiations mediated by the United Nations and Arab League
  • Fall 2012 to present – Iran continued backing for Damascus while exploring other options and exit strategies.
Tehran has provided Damascus seven types of aid:
• Crowd control equipment and technical aid
• Guidance and assistance on monitoring the Internet and mobile telephone network
• Financial resources
• Arms and ammunition (via Iraq)
• Oil shipments (via sea)
• Provide personnel and specialist units
• Training for the National Defense Army
 
Iran has six incentives to support a negotiated settlement:

• Contain damage and cut losses because the pre-March 2011 status quo cannot be restored in Syria
• Prevent the dissolution of Syria and spillover of conflict into Lebanon and Iraq
• Demonstrate Iran’s importance as a key regional actor
• Avoid further polarization and total transformation of conflict into a regional sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites
• Facilitate the emergence of a national unity government in Damascus that is not hostile to Iran
• Free up resources to solve Iran’s own domestic issues and deal with foreign sanctions

Click here for a summary of the event by the Woodrow Wilson Center Middle East Program.

Jubin Goodarzi, a professor of International Relations at Webster University Geneva, Switzerland, is author of, "Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East." 
 

 

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