DIPLOMACY SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
One underlying goal of American threats to attack Syria for its use of chemical weapons has been to move the parties in Syria toward a negotiated settlement. That is unlikely to happen without the Assad government’s main international backers, Iran and Russia, participating in negotiations. Some critics of the America move have warned that an American attack could have the opposite effect by provoking retaliation from Russia and Iran, while some who have favored the administration heeding its own “red line” have argued that an American attack, or even threat of attack, could convince Russia and Iran that a settlement was needed. The latter can take heart, perhaps, from a report today in Ha’aretz.
In Ha’aretz, Zvi Bar’el reports that Iran and Russia are working on a compromise proposal that could forestall an American attack on Syria. It would consist of a transfer of power in Syria in stages that would culminate in an election in which Bashar al Assad would not run and Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal would be transferred to Russia or another country. Iran’s participation in the negotiations may reflect disillusionment with Assad. Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javid Sarif said, “We believe that the government in Syria has made grave mistakes that have, unfortunately, paved the way for the situation in the country to be abused.”
Who knows whether these proposals are genuine, but they could represent a constructive way out of the current morass.