Marathon diplomacy for a political solution in Syria

Marathon diplomacy for a political solution in Syria
4 min read
05 August, 2015
Following the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, and signs of Gulf acceptance of the deal, diplomatic efforts to end Syrian conflict are intensifying.
Iran is seeking regional backing for an initiative on Syria [AFP]
Tehran was the centre of Russian, Iranian, and Syrian diplomatic activity this week, after high-level talks were held in Doha to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal on Monday, as well as regional developments, led by the situation in Yemen and Syria.

In Doha, a tripartite meeting was held between Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the US Secretary of State John Kerry, and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, mainly to discuss Syria.

The climate surrounding the talks was said to be positive, according to Gulf sources who closely followed the meetings.

Meanwhile, a senior State Department official said that at the Qatar meeting Kerry, Jubeir and Lavrov "acknowledged the need for a political solution to the conflict and the important role to be played by opposition groups in reaching that solution."

Hours after the Doha meetings, Russian Middle East envoy Mikhail Bogdanov flew to the Iranian capital to meet with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. On Tuesday evening, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem arrived in Tehran as well.

Abdollahian told the Iranian news agency ISNA following his meeting with Bogdanov that they discussed an initiative for a settlement in Syria. The initiative, which Tehran had presented to the United Nations earlier, contains four clauses: a ceasefire to be observed by all parties, border controls to prevent the entry of militants and arms to Syria, opening crossings for aid convoys to the affected areas, and launching a Syrian dialogue to produce a national unity government.

However, Abdollahian told Iranian state television al-Alam that the initiative has been modified to take into account recent developments in Syria, without specifying how. Analysts say this involves the details of the fourth clause, following Lavrov's meetings with major regional players that can influence the situation in Syria.

Former Iranian diplomat Hadi Afqahi told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the Iranian initiative would bring about a major strategic shift in the near future, citing the flexibility shown by Arab and Western actors regarding Syria, most recently in Doha. Afqahi said Russia has carried messages from these players to Iran, reckoning the initiative for the time being will not tackle Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's future.

The former diplomat said Tehran could propose a referendum on a new constitution followed by presidential elections. He predicted the shift in the attitudes of regional players on Syria would give the Iranian initiative a chance to succeed.

The Syrian foreign minister's meetings in Tehran should be seen in this context. On Tuesday, Moallem met with Bogdanov in a hotel near the capital to discuss the initiative.

According to press reports, Walid al-Moallem has been invited to visit Oman for further talks. Oman, according to the same reports, will also invite the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers, but it is not clear whether the men will meet. Muscat hosted secret talks between Iran and the West for a number of years, before the nuclear negotiations went public.

The success of the initiative will require close regional cooperation. Iran is aware of this and perhaps it is for this reason that it proposed an Iranian-Gulf dialogue last month during Zarif's visits to Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Attiyah echoed these statements, calling for a "serious dialogue" with Iran in an interview with AP on Tuesday. He said: "We should have a serious dialogue with our neighbour, the Iranians, and ... lay down our concerns from both sides, and solve them together."

Attiyah cautioned that there are still major areas of disagreement. More work must be done to build confidence on both sides, including on the issue of "interfering in other countries' internal affairs," he said.

The top Qatari diplomat added: "We wish that Iran looked at Syria through the (eyes of the) Syrian people and not through the brutal regime." He also stressed rumours about Qatar defending the extremists or supporting the extremists in Syria have no truth.

And in what could be a reference to the possibility of radical changes happening in Syria soon, the minister said there is a chance to work with Iran on issues other than the nuclear agreement.