This expansion of influence notably coincides with last week’s inclusion of Iran in the international security conference concerning the Syrian crisis. The American and Saudi acquiescence to this development was criticized by Iranian opposition groups and other persons advocating for the eviction of the Islamic Republic from Middle Easter conflict areas ahead of any permanent solution to those conflicts.
Some figures in the Obama administration asserted last week that the central motive for including Iran in the talks was to gauge its willingness to compromise and concede to the eventual removal from power of the Assad regime. The US has already compromised to one degree, as its official outline for a solution has shifted from Assad’s immediate removal to permitting him to continue to rule the country for about six months after the negotiated end of the Syrian Civil War, after which point he would voluntarily step down.
Iran provided hints of its answer to this challenge last week, and now the regime’s unwillingness to compromise appears to have been made quite official. Rudaw reported on Tuesday that Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the IRGC, had said that Iran remained committed to the long-term preservation of the Assad regime and would fight to keep it in power.
Jafari specifically disregarded the possibility of a compromise in which Assad is replaced with another leader approved by Iran, as was the case in Iraq when Haider al-Abadi replaced Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister. “The majority of Syria’s people support Assad,” Jafari said, apparently referring to the findings of elections held last year only in the portions of the country still held by the Syrian government forces. “We seek no one else other than him.”
This re-assertion of Iranian support has apparently emboldened the Assad regime itself to make public statements rejecting the solutions proposed by Western powers. Today Online reported that Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad rejected the notion of a transition period on behalf of all leading Syrian officials.
These statements seem to all but eliminate the possibility of cooperation from Iran and its proxies, but they do not necessarily eliminate the possibility of eventual cooperation from Iran’s allies. Analysts have formerly speculated that Russia’s and Iran’s goals in Syria might diverge over the long term and that Russia could be convinced to support Assad’s ouster if its own interests were safeguarded.
While praising Moscow for its contribution to recent Iranian offensives in the Syrian conflict, Jafari’s comments also acknowledged this possibility, saying that Iran “is after its own interests and may not be interested in keeping Assad as we [are].” Meanwhile, the Obama administration has repeatedly expressed willingness to cooperate with both Iran and Russia in hopes that they would concede to relinquishing their alliance with Assad. Now that Iran has formally rejected that proposition, the US strategy may shift toward cooperating with Moscow in hopes that the Russians will betray their current alliance with Iran.
If this is the case, it may inspire hope among opponents of the Iranian regime that the US is at last taking a greater interest in challenging an unhelpful Iranian presence in shared conflicts. There is potentially other evidence of the same. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported, for instance, that the Treasury Department had temporarily suspended deliveries of money to the Iraqi central bank for fear that some of that money was making its way into sanctioned Iranian banks and others into the hands of the Islamic State.
While some money has been delivered since the situation began in July, and the situation has not been fully resolved, the initial reaction may reflect a greater awareness of Iran’s contribution to sectarian conflict beyond its borders than some critics have been willing to credit the Obama administration with.