Presence of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Russia with discrepant views and different international standings in Syria is not only evidence to complexity of the crisis in this country, but also a proof to the fact that any solution to this crisis would take a lot of time to be found. It also shows that no unilateral solution in favor of any of these “involved parties” could be possibly successful.
On February 27, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2268 through consensus to put into gear the contents of a joint statement released by the foreign ministers of the United States and Russia for the cessation of hostilities in Syria.
The statement had been issued on February 24, asking the belligerent sides to observe its provisions from the midnight of February 27, thus allowing for a ceasefire to take effect along the lines of contact between all groups covered by the truce deal.
Since the outset of the truce, American officials, including President Barack Obama, appeared doubtful about its outcome and implementation, and since Russians have made their entire credit in Syria conditional on the implementation of this “ceasefire,” Americans have been willing for Russia to accept responsibility for any mediation to this effect.
This stage, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a turning point in Syria’s crisis. Americans, however, have not agreed to this position, at least, in their rhetoric. At any rate, 97 groups, in addition to Syrian army and the Russian air force, have vowed to remain committed to the aforesaid statement. Russia has also established a truce monitoring center at a location close to Bassel Al-Assad International Airport near the city of Latakia, and has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the region to show that it is serious in this regard.
The first result of these developments is to create two responsible and negotiating groups, who at least agree on many international concepts. One group is led by the United States while the other group, which includes the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria, is led by Russia.
The following notes explain a large-scale and preliminary approach to this process and possibilities that Iran may have to face.
1. It can be almost certainly said that the governance in Syria will be taken out of the hands of the government in Damascus and will be taken over by the Security Council, especially by the United States and Moscow. This means that it would be very unlikely for the “national government” in Syria to be able or willing to prevent Russia from taking additional measures in that country.
2. It seems that if Russia and the United States do not come to blows over the outcome, they would be unlikely to have significant differences over the method and mechanism of advancing negotiations.
3. When truce starts between Russia and Syria, on the one hand, and “moderate opposition” groups, on the other hand, as a result of commitment to contents of the Security Council resolution, those groups will firstly, have time to strengthen their organization and will finally gain political legitimacy in the face of the government.
4. Russia will have more motivation and commitment to finding a solution to this conflict compared to the United States in order to prove its sense of responsibility and play a stronger international role in a bid to regulate its relations with Europe and the United States at global level. It was Mr. Putin, who interrupted normal program of the Russian television, to declare that he has reached an agreement with the US president over the ceasefire in Syria.
5. Direct role of countries like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in Syria will gradually decrease and they will be contained and act within a set framework.
6. Since in terms of area, territories under control of Daesh and al-Nusra Front are bigger than areas controlled by other groups and they are also supported by their forces in Iraq as well as governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the fate of a political entity like Syria will not be determined in a medium-term period of 5-10 years.
In line with the above assumptions, a few possibilities can be taken into account:
1. Cease fire will continue in those regions, where areas of conflict are relatively very small and limited, in which case:
a. Syrian government will no longer have access to the country’s borders with Turkey.
b. Syria’s sovereign measures, including holding elections, would become conditional on accepting considerations of the United Nations Security Council.
c. In view of the presence of Russia at Qamishli air base and the United States’ presence in another rural airport 45 km from Qamishli toward Iraq, the two Kurdish regions of Hasakah and Kobani will practically turn into a safe zone protected by these two powers. This region will probably form a free Kurdistan region in the future.
d. Political negotiations will start and continue under the UN special envoy to Syria.
e. The Security Council will probably give the go-ahead to deployment of UN peacekeeping forces along some lines of contact.
f. Joint management of Syria crisis by the United States and Russia will prove effective and turn into a model for more cooperation between the two sides.
2. The ceasefire region will expand to more areas after withdrawal from those areas of Daesh and al-Nusra Front:
a. Role and the necessity for presence of peacekeeping forces will increase.
3. Daesh and al-Nusra Front will resist pressures:
a. Washington’s policy is based on eliminating leaders and key elements of Daesh and al-Nusra Front in order to render this group leaderless and finally push it into a position of passivity.
However, it is unlikely that the ideology and members of these two groups would fail in provided necessary high cadres for the leadership of the groups. Therefore, similar to the Taliban group in Afghanistan, which has imposed itself on the government through political means, these groups and their way of thinking, will turn into part of the future solution in this region.
b. There is high possibility of conflict among militant groups and formation of new coalitions among them.
4. Ceasefire will practically fail due to frequent breaches by belligerent sides:
a. Under these conditions and in view of the weakness of operational forces affiliated to various groups present in Syria to push for their goals, direct presence of forces from Turkey and Saudi Arabia in Syria would seem inevitable. Under these circumstances, the possibility of the presence of American forces in future should be also taken into consideration.
b. The possibility of the Security Council adopting more serious decisions to dispatch troops to Syria is also predictable.
Whatever the final outcome of this crisis, it will set the main future direction for Iran’s foreign policy. The outcome of this crisis will determine the quality of political relations that Iran will have with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Lebanon. The outcome of this crisis will also shed light on the balance of understanding of politics in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and ultimately Israel. The outcome of this crisis will influence Iran’s relations with Iraq as well.
None of the involved countries have a clear image of what they want on the basis of the realities on the ground. The United States and Russia have only agreed on mechanisms for reaching a solution, but the outcome for them will be as diverse as it is for other players. More serious discussion of these issues by experts may finally offer decision-making officials with better solutions.
by: Hossein Malaek, Iran’s Former Ambassador to China and Foreign Policy Analyst