Kerry acknowledged this fact in his remarks, saying for instance that Iran should change its policies to focus on pursuing a diplomatic solution in Yemen instead of continuing to send shipments of weapons to the Houthi rebels in that country. Last week, the US Fifth Fleet seized a cache of weapons believed to be in transit from Iran to Yemen. It was at least the third such seizure so far in 2016.
Kerry also admitted that the differences between Iran and other countries including the US and its Arab partners over the future of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was still the main obstacle to a permanent political solution to that country’s five-year civil war. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed in that conflict, and five million have been displaced. Moderate rebel groups including the Free Syrian Army continue to insist upon the ouster of President Assad, but Iran, which has been a participant in international talks on the issue, has maintained that it will not consider any alternative to Assad prior to post-conflict elections.
Despite Kerry’s recognition of the discord on this issue, his broader remarks in Bahrain suggest that he believes that an effective compromise can be reached with the Iranian regime, which concluded an agreement last summer with six world powers exchanging relief from economic sanctions for limited constraints on the Iranian nuclear program.
The Obama administration’s optimistic assessment of the prospects for further negotiations stands in contrast to statements by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has urged his subordinates to avoid negotiating with the West over anything other than the nuclear issue. Iran’s adversaries, including the government of Saudi Arabia and the exiled dissident group the National Council of Resistance of Iran have seized upon such remarks to support their claims that Tehran is fundamentally unwilling to compromise on its regional ambitions.
The US has been at odds with its traditional Arab partners over Iran policy for some time, with the latter taking it upon themselves to join the Yemeni Civil War as a counterbalance to Iran’s influence there. On Friday, Breitbart cited Arab intelligence sources as saying that the Iranians intended to exploit this American-Saudi discord in order to increase their support for the Houthi rebels.
Breitbart also noted that forces loyal to Yemeni President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi have reported the increased presence of the Iran-backed Lebanese paramilitary Hezbollah alongside the Houthi rebels. Similarly, The Tower reported on Thursday that Hezbollah has established a deeper foothold in Syria, fortifying a base of operations there and beginning the importation of its own heavy artillery and tanks.
This observation is supported by a report from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, indicating that the Iranian regime has accelerated deployment of Revolutionary Guards and proxy forces to Syria, in order to compensate for the reduction in supportive Russian forces following international negotiations. The NCRI report alleges that these forces are massing for a major offensive on the city of Aleppo, arguably undermining the Secretary of State’s notion that Tehran can be counted on to help bring an end to fighting amongst non-Islamic State forces.