30 seconds over Syria: Iran talks must be expanded

John Kerry speaks at the US State Department in Washington, DC, on November 20. John Kerry said Geneva negotiators were not having "a geopolitical conversation right now"

From the hyperventilating Saudis, to the furious Israelis, to understanding Tuesday's tragic twin bombing in Beirut, it is all about Tehran these days.

A third round of nuclear talks with Iran is now under way in Geneva. President Barack Obama said it was unclear if a deal would be reached this weekend, but one thing is certain: the ongoing negotiations in a luxurious Geneva hotel and the prospect of a deal are roiling the whole Middle East.

There is no way of telling if there is a direct connection between the Geneva talks and the attack on the Iranian embassy in Lebanon, which has killed at least 22 people, but the violence is a manifestation of the deep fault lines running through the region.

Syria is a proxy battleground between Iran, Hezbollah and Russia on one side and the Gulf monarchies, the US and the West on the other.

While it is too early to envision how a nuclear agreement could transform the relationship between the US and Iran, I've been struck by how little US officials have to say, certainly in public, about the effect that progress with Iran could have on the region.

Ten days ago, I was travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry when he unexpectedly changed his itinerary and flew to Geneva to join the second round of negotiations. There was no deal in the end, but America and Iran had talked more in 30 hours than they had in the previous 30 years.

When I interviewed Mr Kerry a day later about the possible wider impact of the talks, he said: "We're not having a geopolitical conversation right now.''

I pressed further, asking how a nuclear deal could affect efforts to solve the conflict in Syria. He replied: "I don't think anybody has any idea."

Mr Kerry also said the conflict in Syria was only a 30-second discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Surely Syria deserves more than that.

In the past, the US, and the rest of the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany (P5+1) have rejected efforts by Iran to include all sorts of random items on the agenda of nuclear talks, from Afghanistan to anti-narcotic efforts. They saw Iran's approach as a way of diluting the process and dragging out the negotiations while centrifuges were spinning, so the six powers insisted that the focus remain squarely on the controversial nuclear programme.

Today Iran is only talking plutonium and uranium in Geneva, but the US decision to stick to its "nuclear only" position is at odds with the changed context in which these talks are taking place.

Officials meet at the latest session of talks in Geneva on Iran's nuclear programme. Talks between the US and Iran must address the Syrian civil war

First, Syria is collapsing and the Middle East is coming apart (yes, again, as usual, but it really is worse than ever). Second, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no longer president, and the current Iranian leadership is probably the best the world is going to see for a while.

No-one knows for sure yet whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are considering a shift in their regional calculations. And in the US, there are deep divisions and differences of opinions within the Obama administration about how to engage Iran in a wider conversation about the region and what the possible outcomes, dangers or benefits might be.

Discussing Syria with Iran for only 30 seconds, however, while Iranian Revolutionary Guards are fighting side by side with Syrian troops, is not tenable for much longer, certainly not past the day when an interim deal is reached.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    As news of "possible" deal, Israeli PM Netanyahu reacted with apoplectic opposition: “This is a very bad deal & Israel utterly rejects it…. Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself...What is being proposed now is a deal in which Iran retains all of that capacity to build a nuclear weapon…"
    Kerry parachuted in; I guess to support Israel.
    Who invited Israel to P5+1?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Rohani’s call for IAEA inspection of “all nuclear activities IN THE REGION” includes Israel which has NEVER allowed IAEA to inspect anything & has no obligation to do so as a non-signer of the non-proliferation treaty. In this regard, Israel is a rogue state; so it’s little wonder that Israel, & Israel’s supporters, appear committed to blocking any deal with Iran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The only state in ME that has not signed non-proliferation treaty is Israel (assumed nuclear weapons arsenal of 75+ warheads). Israel argues treaty is contrary to Israel’s security interests. Officially, Israel has said its nuclear program is “designed exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
    Why should e believe Israel and not Iran?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    DECISIVE FACTOR: Israel's political reach via Zionist agents in US . US' wars against Iraq & Libya , current support of merciless assault against Syria , have seriously damaged 3 major opponents of Israel ’s hegemonic ambitions. Then there is colonization of Palestinian territory. Yet, Israel looks eastward- toward destruction of last remaining obstacle to its colonial policies: Iran .

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Who runs US? Pro-Israel Policy Groups like AIPAC work with unlimited funding to divert US policy in ME.
    Quote: “The United States should drop a nuclear bomb on Iran to spur the country to end its nuclear program” (Sheldon Adelson, biggest donor to the Republican Party & major fundraiser for pro-Israel political action committees, New York City, October 22, 2013).

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Obama has no stones - he was incompetent from day-one
    Bibi should nuke Iran - give ME/EU some breathing space
    Until the next Arab Spring uprising - dont y'all have jobs ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I am not sure you can trust any of the players in the shady dealing they're all despicable in their own way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Remove the influence of AIPAC and the bloodthirsty bankers and thugs running the Military industrial complex.

    Then drag them to the hague.

    Then warn any dodgy media continuing to whistle the Globalist tune that they've been aiding and abbetting mass murderers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    "Syria is a proxy battleground between Iran, Hezbollah and Russia on one side and the Persian Gulf monarchies, the US and the West on the other."

    You left out Al-Qaeda aligned militants. Pretty sure they're in the mix somewhere. Maybe that particularly faction is covered by Persian Gulf monarchies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Iran is already convinced that the weak Obama administration and their allied European appeasers will bent - the only question is to test how far?
    In the end they will do a disservice to the Iranian people who detest the fanatical moronic ayatollahs. A nuclear Islamic Iran spells death to freedom for Iranians and for Israel, an unacceptable risk. War is now closer than ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Well of course Kerry and the Iranian negotiator are not going to publicly admit that Syria is on the table. How will it look if Iran publicly threw Assad under the bus, but then no deal materialised? It would be embarassing. And America is not so stupid to jeopradise a possible settlement for a quick PR boost that could scupper the talks (at least I hope not). They're keeping it on the down low.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Iran hasn't invaded another nation since battle of Karnal 3 centuries ago

    "Iran's seven sisters" looted Iran

    US helped Saddam to invade & use WMDs on Iran

    Iran share in "Eurodif enrichment" plant and "Rossing uranium mine" was stolen by French & British

    IranAir Flight 655 full of children was shot down by US navy in support of Saddam

    Per NewYorker US supported Jundallah/MKO terrorists in Iran

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I believe the attitude in the west has shifted from the perspective of regional allies, to more of a "how do we look out for ourselves" and stop the potential proliferation of nuclear materials within this unstable region.
    This in itself is of interest to Iran who are trying to see how much leverage they can gain without retaliation from the west or from opposing ME. nations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Few weeks ago I talked in Skype with my elder brother, and he expressed horror at the possibility of Iran gaining atom bomb:

    He: Islamic state having atom bomb!
    I: Well, Pakistan is also Islamic country, it already has atom bomb and nobody cares too much.
    He: But Pakistan's bomb is only against India!
    I: For now - perhaps yes. But who knows the next turn?
    He: Hmm...

    So much for geopolitics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Lethnot Hopelessly wrong! The main road block to any solution to the Middle East is Israel supported by both the US and the UK. The UN needs to be completely brought up to date, no vetos just majority voting for sanctions and UN resolutions and then there would be a level playing field. Something that Israel, the US and the UK do not want!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Al fair comment above, but one sided I fear..... PUTIN needs to be asked similar questions, he is the main road block in the Middle East to getting anything resolved....the US is only a part of the effort required !

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    John Kerry and the Obama administration seem determined to conclude a "peace for our time" kind of deal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    John Kerry wants to do a deal with those who chant "death to America" in the streets while still indulging in public hangings.

    He thinks this will gain him a place in history. It will ... like Neville Chamberlain and his Munich Agreement that led, just a couple of months later, to Kristallnacht.

    US policy on Egypt & Israel means nobody in the Middle East trusts the USA as it abandons friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    The Arab Spring is looking a mess


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