The parties to Russian-American negotiation over getting rid of chemical weapons in Syria are trading concessions with the parties to negotiation over Iran's nuclear program. They are doing this carefully and in parallel, with calculated steps. The results of this process will not appear quickly, due to the linkage between agreeing on one issue with agreeing on the other.
By abandoning a military strike against Syria, the US guaranteed that Russia would continue to cooperate with it and other great powers when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. In turn, Iran offered a concession to these countries, by accepting for the first time since 2007 surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities, in a later stage, and its readiness to prove that it does not seek to possess nuclear weapons by accepting 20 percent uranium enrichment. At least, this is what was leaked from the discussions of the 5+1 countries with Iran in Geneva two weeks ago.
However, these mutual concessions continue to worry a number of countries that are concerned with the crisis in Syria and the spread of Iranian influence in a number of countries for the past two decades. These states fear that the agreement on chemical weapons will lead to giving up on a political solution to the Syrian crisis and on the idea of regime change. They fear it will lead to merely placing controls on Iran's nuclear program so that sanctions on Tehran are eased, while leaving its intervention in a number of countries subject to local balances of power. However, those who are observing the evolution of negotiations between the US and Russia, and between Iran and western countries, over two WMD programs, rule out the idea that the resulting agreements will stand. These observers believe that the fate of the regime in Syria and the political solution, and Iran's role, will have to be discussed, going so far as to cover a comprehensive deal on Iran's regional influence.
The basic key in Syria, which needs to control chemical weapons, is more of a Russian presence on the ground, to protect the long-term process of getting rid of these weapons. The estimates by experts indicate that Moscow needs more than 5,000 soldiers and civilian experts on the ground during this phase. It is unlikely that these weapons can be dismantled without the presence of UN experts requiring military-security protection under the umbrella of peacekeeping troops, who might be even more in number. The irony is that Moscow is once again entering the region with military force, while the US is withdrawing; in the first place Moscow should ask for international protection for its presence, so that its military presence does not come to resemble America's failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. This requires a resolution in the United Nations Security Council with American support, and while Washington will not likely object to such a thing, it will be subject in turn to new rounds of bargaining between the two countries.
Here, we should note what was leaked from Moscow about 50,000 Christians from Greater Damascus areas asking for Russian citizenship, to protect them from terrorists. Logically, it would be difficult to naturalize 50,000 Syrians in one go; instead what is needed is to guarantee the protection of those people, by Russian forces. This is an additional reason for a Russian military presence in the future.
In summary, the complications of the Syrian crisis will not allow the political settlement to be limited to the chemical weapons issue. The objective conditions of a proxy war being waged in Syria will require the world's leading powers to discuss an agreement that goes beyond chemical weapons.
While it is true that the US, Russia and Iran have agreed to fight terrorists and extremist groups in Syria, Washington's policy to prevent the opposition's defeat is still in place. Thus, Secretary of State John Kerry was keen to say that ending the Syrian crisis is not possible if Bashar Assad remains in power. Kerry's comments dispelled doubts in Arab and Gulf countries that his earlier praise for Assad in getting rid of chemical weapons meant the US would accept his remaining president. However, Washington also acknowledges that it will take time to see the agreement with Moscow about a political solution at Geneva 2 include the departure of Assad, and this will prolong the misery of the Syrian people. This scenario assumes that it is impossible to end this crisis with military intervention, as proved by the failed experiment in Iraq. As for the Iranian nuclear issue, Washington is defending its openness to Iran because it can only respond to positive signals from Tehran, and it is keen to affirm that it is waiting for deeds, not words, from the Iranian leadership. The US is also recalling its regional interests, and repeating that it will not abandon its key allies, namely the governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The irony is that Washington, despite its agreement with Moscow over preserving stability in Lebanon, is very anxious about this small country entering the spring of 2014 in a state of limbo when it comes to its Cabinet, and its president, and possibly unable to hold parliamentary elections next fall. Does this mean that Lebanon will be left to its fate, because the priorities are Syria and Iran?
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arab Today.