View From Europe
By HARVEY MORRIS
June 7, 2012, 8:56 am Comment
Edlib News Network, via Associated PressSyrians on Thursday denounced an alleged government massacre in al-Qubair in this photograph supplied by the opposition.
LONDON — As Western leaders on Thursday denounced the latest reported massacre in Syria, moves were afoot to bring Iran into international efforts toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
In more than a year of unrest and repression, Iran has been regarded — at least in the West — as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Tehran has been accused of supplying the regime of President Bashar al-Assad with weapons and money to enable its long-standing Syrian ally to pursue a violent crackdown in which more than 10,000 people are said to have died.
Now, Kofi Annan, the international peace envoy whose ceasefire plan has been left in tatters by the continued violence, wants the Iranians at the table whenever world and regional leaders meet to develop a new strategy to end the conflict.
Mr. Annan, a former United Nations secretary general, was on Thursday presenting the U.N. with a Plan B to resolve the crisis that would attempt to take account of Russian and Chinese resistance to forced “regime change” in Damascus.
According to reports from the U.N., the plan would involve the establishment of an international contact group that could for the first time include Tehran.
Conventional wisdom in the West is that Iran cannot afford to lose its key ally in the region and will do almost anything to keep President Assad in power.
Other commentators, have argued, however, that Tehran will not permanently tie itself to a failing regime, particularly as the focus of its regional influence has switched to neighboring Iraq.
Iran was “disinclined to be the benefactor of an Assad regime run amok in a time of democratic hope in the Middle East,” according to Alex Vatanka, a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
Tehran is said to have been highly critical of the Syrian government in its direct contacts with Damascus, although it has publicly followed the Assad line that the unrest is being stirred by outside conspirators and terrorists.
Russia backs the idea of making Iran part of the solution, given its high level of influence in Syria. But initial reaction from Western capitals has been negative.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, pressing for Iran to be included in any future international meeting aimed at ending the Syrian crisis, said: “We believe it is necessary to assemble a meeting of states with real influence on different opposition groups. There are not that many.”
Western politicians are cool to the idea on two levels: firstly, Iran is seen as too sympathetic to the Damascus regime to act as a helpful player and, secondly, its participation in high-level talks on Syria could complicate continuing efforts to resolve its own dispute with the international community over its nuclear program.
Iranian participation would “contradict the objective of putting strong pressure on Syria,” said Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, at a conference on Syria in Istanbul this week. “It would also have an impact on discussions on the Iranian nuclear question,” he said. “And that is undesirable.”
Britain’s foreign minister, William Hague, was equally dismissive, saying the inclusion of Iran would be “unworkable.”
“This is a country that is supporting some of the unacceptable violence and supporting the Syrian regime in what it is doing to the Syrian people and that would cause a great difficulty,” Mr. Hague said.
Iran placed itself alongside Russia and China on Thursday, signing a joint communique at the end of a summit of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Beijing that rejected military intervention into the Middle East’s affairs, “forcing a handover of power or using unilateral sanctions.”
Iran has yet to pronounce on where it would stand on an invitation to join a future conference. For the moment, it is sticking by its familiar conspiratorial rhetoric.
As the Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani put it on Wednesday: “Enemies are playing with a ball of fire by planning various plots against the line of resistance in the region and it will absolutely hurt themselves and the