White House Says Still Fact-Finding Reported Chemical Weapons Use, and Weighing Military Options

According to an August 24, 2013, Washington Post article entitled, “White House Says Still Fact-Finding Reported Chemical Weapons Use, US Forces Toward Syria,” US President Barack Obama received a detailed review of requested options for the US and its international partners to use against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, if the fact-finding process concludes it engaged in deadly chemical warfare.  The White House was quoted as stating Obama discussed the situation in Syria with British Prime Minister David Cameron.  It was said to be Obama’s first known conversation with a foreign leader about Syria since the report that hundreds of Syrians had been killed by an alleged chemical attack in a Damascus suburb.  The Assad’s regime denies the claims.  It has warned the US against taking military action, stating such a step would “set the Middle East ablaze.”

The August 24th, Washington Post article also reported that US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated that the Obama had asked the Pentagon to prepare military options for Syria but declined to discuss specific force movements.  However, certain Defense Department officials, speaking under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ship movements publicly revealed that the US Navy had sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles in the Mediterranean Sea, but without immediate orders for any missile launch against Syria.  As the Washington Post article explained, the Navy warships in the Mediterranean were capable of a variety of military actions, to include launching Tomahawk cruise missiles as they did against Libya in 2011.  Hagel was also quoted as saying, “The Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for contingencies and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options—whatever options the president might choose.”

While the chemical attack issue is urgent, and military action of some type is most likely, Obama’s national security team’s meeting on August 24th was perhaps similar to many others in which they discussed contingencies for Syria..  Options for intervention in Syria have been continuously considered at the highest-levels of the Pentagon since the civil war there began, and at times they have been outlined publicly.  Most recently, in a letter to Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, presented a concept and intent behind possible military action in Syria and its likely sequalae.  A month prior, in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Dempsey discussed the matter in greater detail, presenting options and their likely costs.  On the one hand, since Obama set a red-line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and Assad’s regime has decided to cross it apparently more than once, US credibility is at stake.  Any military effort should have a sound educational impact on Assad and promote US credibility globally.  However, any military strikes against Syria should in some way promote US policy goals of supporting the opposition and prompting President Assad’s departure.  Perhaps military action at this juncture should not be limited attacks against the Assad’s regime.  Conceivably, it could include a covert effort in support of mainstream elements against extremist, yet effective, Islamic militant groups fighting in Syria that are adverse to Syria’s transition to a democratic government.  Such an effort just might allow the US and its allies to stop treading water, shape events in Syria, and get their efforts moving forward.

Military Options Presented By the Pentagon

Dempsey’s letter to Congressman Eliot Engel, dated August 19, 2013, has been used by policy experts such as Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to glean insight into the Obama Administration’s thinking on military action in Syria.  The letter was written in response to a correspondence from the Congressman regarding the resources required and the risk of applying US military force against the Assad regime.  Dempsey explained “there were certainly actions short of tipping the balance of the conflict” in favor of the opposition that could “impose a cost on Assad’s regime for unacceptable behavior.”  Yet, he made it clear that using military force to change the balance “cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious, and tribal issues that are fueling the conflict.”  Dempsey expressed that the crisis in Syria was “tragic and complex.  He called it a deeply rooted, long-term conflict among multiple factions and violent struggles for power will continue after Assad’s role ends.”  To that extent, Dempsey noted, “The effectiveness of limited military options must be evaluated in this context.”

However, Dempsey’s letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, to which he referred in his letter to Congressman Engel, and which was reported on by Reuters on July 22, 2013, provided an unclassified assessment of the options for using U.S. military force in the Syrian conflict.  According to General Dempsey, the options provided, developed in consultation with the Joint Chiefs and the US Central Command, would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime.  Even at that time, Dempsey explained, “We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action.”

Dempsey went on to reveal that training, advising and assisting the opposition, which could include weapons training, tactical planning and intelligence and logistics assistance, would cost an estimated $500 million a year.  Limited stand-off strikes, using air and missile strikes to attack Syrian air defenses, military forces and command structure to damage the Assad government’s ability to wage war, Dempsey claimed, could cost a billion dollars a month and risk retaliatory strikes and civilian casualties.  Dempsey stated that establishing a no-fly zone would require hundreds of strike aircraft and support units. The cost could be a billion dollars a month and would risk the loss of US planes while potentially failing to reduce violence because Syria relies mainly on surface arms rather than air power.  Establishing buffer zones, Dempsey explained, would mean the use force to create and maintain safe zones inside Syria where the opposition could train and organize while being protected from attack by government forces. He stated the cost would be over a billion dollars a month and could improve opposition capabilities over time, but the zones, themselves, could become targets for Syrian attack.  Directly on the point of controlling chemical weapons, Dempsey stated that lethal force could be used to prevent proffer proliferation of chemical weapons and to destroy Syria’s “massive stockpile” of the weapons. However, at that time, he explained the option would require hundreds of aircraft as well as personnel on the ground and could cost over a billion dollars per month.  Clearly, these military options are not quick and easy and would dramatically increase US costs and risk of loss in Syria.  Yet, the guaranteed party to incur costs and loss will be the Assad’s regime. 

The US Military Can Still Act Decisively in Syria

Any attack on Assad’s forces whether to destroy his chemical weapons stockpiles or degrade his command and control capabilities will have a significant impact on their capabilities.  In an effort not to shift the balance, the key would be not to act decisively against his forces.  During the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya, Operation Unified Protector, decisive use of airpower and cruise missile strikes against the forces of Muammar Qaddafi, supporting the movement of rebel forces with tactical support and attacks in depth, resulted in the overthrow of Qaddafi’s regime.  During the 1995 NATO-led intervention in Bosnia, Operation Urgent Fury, decisive use of airpower and cruise missile strikes against Bosnian Serb forces around Sarajevo and throughout the country, facilitated the movement of Muslim and Croat forces of the Bosnian Federation.  Limiting strikes to a degree that will prevent them from having a decisive impact while being sufficient enough to achieve the desire effect upon the Assad forces will not be easy.  However, perhaps at this juncture, failing to act decisively in Syria, and that does not mean acting solely against Assad’s forces, would be a mistake.  What would be best effect of the military action in Syria would be to create opportunities for the US to pursue more than one political goal in Syria.

Islamic militant factions continue to impede US efforts to support the Free Syrian Army, the loose knit umbrella organization of around 1200 groups, which is the fighting force of the Syrian opposition’s military wing, the Supreme Military Council.  The more powerful Islamic militant factions such as the foreign fighter laden Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), the new Syria based affiliate of Al-Qaida and the well-armed, mostly Syrian, Al-Nusra Front, are not directed toward a transition in Syria to a democratic form of government.  Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS, not necessarily the best of friends, may have done the bulk of the fighting and account for the most of the Free Syrian Army’s successes, however, the group would be unable to cooperate with mainstream Free Syrian Army units in a postwar Syria.  Further, Islamic militant factions, particularly ISIS, have continued to abuse and kill Syrian citizens, and intensified their attacks upon mainstream Free Syrian Army groups and Kurdish groups.  As long as Islamic militants continue to pour into Syria, their numbers and capabilities will reach a point where the mainstream forces would no longer be able to contend with them.  

Purging rogue Islamic militants factions, the US and its allies could halt the deterioration of the Free Syrian Army, allow for the proper organize its remaining groups as a military force, permit unit cohesion and coordination to develop between units, improve their fighting capabilities, and let their combat power to be enhanced with better arms.  As it was explained on greatcharlie.com in its July 11, 2013 post “Opposition in Syria continues to Fracture, Yet This May Create a New Option for Its Allies,” the Obama administration would inevitably need to do more than meet its promise to arm the Free Syrian Army with weapons and ammunition.  Only by intervening covertly in support of mainstream elements against Islamic militant factions would mainstream Free Syrian Army groups ever have a chance of being positioned to defeat Assad’s forces.  In a July 20, 2013, the New York Times report, this view expressed by greatcharlie.com, was echoed by David R. Shedd, the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.   Shedd pointed to the resurgence of the Islamic militant factions, noting that “Over the last two years they’ve grown in size, they’ve grown in capability, and ruthlessly have grown in effectiveness.” He further stated, “The reality is that, left unchecked, they will become bigger.”  Shedd suggested that in addition to strengthening the more secular groups of the fractious Syrian opposition the West would have to directly confront more radical Islamist elements. Shedd did not say how that could be accomplished.  

Likely Outcome of Purge

Rogue Islamic militant factions would be relatively defenseless against the type of airstrikes and missile strikes that could be used against them.  Unlike airstrikes against the Assad regime, the risk of loss to the US and its allies in attacks against them would be low.  The vetting process in which the Central Intelligence Agency and its regional counterparts have been engaged to support the delivery of arms and supplies to appropriate groups of the Free Syrian Army by now should allow the US to determine friend from foe.  As discussed in the July 11, 2013 greatcharlie.com post, “Opposition in Syria Continues to Fracture, Yet This May Create a New Option For Its Allies,” Central Intelligence Agency officers and operatives and special operations forces, with Free Syrian Army commanders at their side, have undoubtedly interviewed locals and quietly gained granular information on the Islamic militant groups including the size of specific units, the locations of its fighters, the backgrounds of individual fighters and commanders, unit capabilities, and its combat and nonlethal resources.  Islamic groups that seek to work with mainstream groups have most likely been identified and an effort has been made by the Central Intelligence Agency to establish a rapport with them.  An effort has also most likely been made to support those groups and place them under the leadership of the Free Syrian Army.  The whereabouts and activities of Islamic militant groups hostile to the concept and intent of the Syrian opposition, and identified as having attacked mainstream Free Syrian Army fighters, are well-known by Central Intelligence Agency.  Special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance means very likely has kept track of them.  Leaders, arms, supply lines and depots, and financial support have most likely been identified.  All entry points of Islamic militants have also most likely been identified and placed under special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance.

Any contingency plans or new plans for conducting Free Syrian Army operations without the targeted Islamic militant groups could be put into effect.  Sufficient numbers of new mainstream fighters must be trained, equipped and fielded to cover any gaps created by the Islamic militant groups that would be removed from Free Syrian Army controlled territory.  The Central Intelligence Agency could request to have its efforts, and those of US Special Operations teams, further supported by allied intelligence and special operations forces.  The rapid and robust training and equipping of the Free Syrian Army in which the US would prefer to be engaged, could be conducted.

Assessment

If Assad has sought refuge in a bunker at some undisclosed location, he should not check out any time soon.  Military action of some type is certainly coming his way.  To have a sound educational impact on his regime, the US does not need to act decisively against Syrian forces.  True, as a result of an attack, the regime’s military capabilities will be greatly damaged, but those forces would still be able to fight.  Moreover, it is very likely that Russia and Iran would mitigate the effects of most damage, outside of replacing his chemical weapons capabilities and stockpiles, which would be in their interests.  Russia might replace destroyed and damages weapons systems and send in “civilian technicians” to to train Assad’s troops to use them.  Iran might go as far as to reinforce Assad’s forces in the field with additional Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps or Iranian Army units.  Moreover, It is possible that the full power and capabilities of the Syrian Armed Forces and its allies might finally be brought to bear on the Free Syrian Army in a large scale offensive, potentially overwhelming it.  That would certainly mean the end of the effort to promote a “gentler look” for Syria and its allies, evinced by arguments made by Russia, portraying Syria as the victim of European leaders “fuelling the fires of war” and “provocations.”

While the US and its allies may still choose not to act decisively against Assad, it can seize this opportunity to act decisively in following with its policy goals in Syria by striking against rogue Islamic militant factions that effectively have thwarted its efforts.  (Striking against rogue Islamic militant factions in Syria may also meet US Counterterrorism policy goals, as Al-Qaida and its affiliates are still at war with the US.)  Foreign fighters attempting to go into Syria to join certain Islamic militant units may find them displaced, reduced, or destroyed.  That may have a sound educational impact on them.  Intervening covertly on the side of mainstream elements against Islamic militant groups would literally emancipate the Free Syrian Army freed from the pressures the rogue Islamic factions placed on the organization. A renewed effort could be made to train and equip its members.  The possibility of the Syria’s transition to a democratic form of government would be greatly enhanced.  US policy would be on track.  In the region, providing this “helping hand” to the Free Syrian Army would prove the US to be a reliable ally to such movements as the Syrian opposition.  With civilian deaths well exceeding 100,000 as a result of the conflict, the Syrian opposition must be allowed to get on with its task and end this conflict.  This is the moment to act.  Time is of the essence.

Iran’s Parliament Grills, but Mostly Confirms, Rouhani’s Cabinet: Hossein Dehghan Faced No Battles

An August 15, 2013, New York Times article entitled, “Iran’s Parliament Grills, but Mostly Confirms, New President’s Cabinet,” reported that after four days of grilling by the conservative dominated Parliament, the proposed cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani survived its confirmation hearings largely intact.  Rouhani’s nominees for the ministries of education, science, and sport were rejected based on accusations by some Members of Parliament that they had been close to the 2009 Green Movement that held protests against Iran’s leaders.  Fifteen other nominees were approved.  According to the New York Times, Rouhani’s appointment of Mohammed Javad Zarif as foreign minister suggested that Rouhani was moving forward with his campaign pledge to seek a more constructive dialogue with the US than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Zarif was Iran’s internationally popular, long-time permanent representative to the UN.  He engaged in postgraduate studies at the San Francisco State University and received his doctorate in international law and policy at the University of Denver and is an expert on the US. 

Yet, the New York Times, August 15th article did not mention that the constructive dialogue will include voices from other appointees such as Ali Akbar Salehi, Ahmadinejad’s foreign minister, and now the new head of Iran’s atomic energy agency.  An August 15, 2013, Washington Post article reported Salehi had been head of that agency for a year, prior to becoming foreign minister.  He was also Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency prior to that.  An even stronger voice helping to formulate that dialogue will be Hossein Dehghan, Rouhani’s appointment as defense minister.  According to an August 13, 2013, Washington Times article, Dehghan spent his entire military career in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (“IRGC”).  Until his confirmation as defense minister, he served as chairman of the political, defense, and security committee of Iran’s Expediency Council.  That Council is an advisory body that is appointed by, and serves, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  The prominent religious, social, and political figures on that council have supervisory powers over all branches of government.  Hardline, and part of the “voice of the Revolution,” Dehghan’s presence will not only impact Iran’s dialogue with the US but also Iran’s approaches to important foreign and defense policy issue such as Syria.  An examination of available options for Dehghan to take as that policy advances indicate President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime could be made even stronger and the Syrian opposition forces even less effective in the field, while at the same time countering Western efforts to counter any Iranian moves.

Dehghan: An IRGC “Icon”

Dehghan is no stranger to the type of operations required of Iranians military and security forces in Syria.  What might be telling of Dehghan’s approach may be his experience as an IRGC commander in Lebanon.  Dehghan joined the IRGC in 1979 and rose quickly through the ranks, becoming IRGC commander in Tehran.  He was sent to Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982 to help establish a military-wing for Hezbollah.  By 1983, Dehghan was appointed commander of IRGC forces in Lebanon.  Allegedly, while in that command, Dehghan received instructions from Tehran to attack peacekeepers of the Multinational Force in Lebanon.  It is further alleged that Dehghan, after providing them with IRGC funding and operational training, directed Hezbollah operatives to engage in martyrdom operations against the Marine barracks and French paratrooper barracks in Beirut.  The operative detonated a truck bomb at the Marine barracks, destroying the building that housed them and tragically killing 341 and wounding several others, most of whom were asleep at the time.  In coordination with that attack, a truck bomb was used by another Hezbollah operative against the French paratroopers barracks, killing 58 soldiers.  (Iranian diplomats and officials would explain that Iran does not engage in assassination or terrorism.  They would call allegations, such as these made of Dehghan and the IRGC, baseless and ridiculous, and part of an effort by detractors to demonize the Islamic republic.)  Experienced, action-oriented, and hardline, (ruthless at times), Dehghan is dedicated to ensuring a strong future for Iran’s military and security forces.  He very likely views Syria as a good opportunity to prepare and test a new generation for the responsibility of protecting Iran’s interests globally.

The Situation in Syria As Dehghan Inherits It

On June 22, 2013, in Doha, Qatar, the Friends of Syria group, (organized by former US Secretary of State  in 2012 to support Syria’s transition to a democratic government), recognized the impact Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters were having on the ground in Syria.  The Friends of Syria vowed to increase the scope and scale of assistance to the Syrian opposition’s political wing, the Syrian National Council, and its military wing, the Supreme Military Council.  US Secretary of State John Kerry stated the Friends of Syria had also determined the Assad regime had crossed a red-line with its reported use of chemical weapons.  Further, the Assad regime had already internationalized the militarization of the conflict by allowing the involvement of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.  This statement clearly indicates the Friends of Syria, which includes the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were willing to wage war with Iran by proxy in Syria.  Through leaks from the US officials, it was revealed that the plan was to ramp up Free Syrian Army combat capabilities to a level at which it could launch a concerted attack against Assad’s forces and allies by August!  Considerable activity has been witnessed on the Southern Front, around Damascus, attempting to make gains that should impact diplomatic efforts by the Friends of Syria with Russia, Iran, and Syria.  They have made good use of training in Jordan organized by the Central Intelligence Agency, and have received an intermittent flow of arms and supplies from Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate.

Yet, bringing the fighting force of the Supreme Military Council, the Free Syrian Army, up to snuff to engage in major combat operations against the Syrian Armed Forces and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies has proved a far more difficult task than ever imagined by the Friends of Syria.  US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, fully acknowledged as recently as July 18th that “Currently the tide has shifted in his [Assad’s] favor.”  In a July assessment of the situation in Syria completed by NATO, it was determined that Assad’s forces have already ended any short-term or mid-term threat from the Syrian rebels.  It predicted that Assad’s forces, with Russian and Iranian support, would capture major Free Syrian Army strongholds with the exception of northern Syria by the end of 2013.  NATO in consultation with US and EU intelligence services concluded that the military campaign had failed over the past three months.  Officials said that the Syrian component of the Free Syrian Army had deteriorated dramatically since April and the point had been reached where it was difficult to distinguish who was determined to fight the Assad regime and who was simply out to collect a paycheck.  Moreover, NATO assessed that Syrians were not doing the bulk of the fighting against the Assad regime.  Rather, the majority of fighting was being done by foreign fighters, most of them affiliated with Al-Qaida.  It was NATO’s assessment that ostensibly resulted in a decision by several leading NATO countries to halt lethal weapons shipments to the Free Syrian Army.  In mid-July, Britain and France signaled their opposition to shipping any weapons to Syria.  Officials said that the two countries which until June were the most vocal supporters for arming the Free Syrian Army determined that any major weapons shipments would end up with Al-Qaida affiliated factions.

Approaches Available to Dehghan on Syria

Dehghan was chairman of the political, defense, and security committee of Iran’s Expediency Council when the decision was made to intervene in Syria with Iranian military and security forces.  Dehghan will unlikely choose to freeze or withdraw in the face of any challenge by the Friends of Syria or as part of some comprehensive deal with the US along with other issues.  In taking steps to counter and defeat Western efforts against the Assad regime and Iranian military and security forces, themselves, Dehghan might choose between two options.

First Option

The first option, as Marc Lynch, director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University has predicted, would be for Iran to move up the” ladder of escalation.”  That would mean having IRGC, Quds Force, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security personnel flood into Syria.  Outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could initiate the increase as one of his final acts in office, creating a new era in power projection for Iran.  Elements of the increase might include bringing heavy artillery and rocket batteries in country, along with Iran’s own air defense systems for force protection from any Friends of Syria intervention.  Massed fire missions could be executed with heavy artillery and heavy rockets, along with airstrikes, to destroy Free Syrian Army units being organized and armed for an attack.  Marshalling points and supply routes for arms and military materiel from the US, EU, and Arab states for the Free Syrian Army could face artillery onslaughts.  Attacks in depth with these weapons could have a multiplier effect for the Syrian Army and its Iranian allies as they begin the reduction of Free Syrian Army territory.  Armored and mechanized units would also become more apparent.  They would provide the Iranian and Syrian forces with mobility and firepower and a maneuver capability unmatched by the Free Syrian Army.

The Iranian Navy might move into the Mediterranean Sea using the Russian naval base at Tartus, Syria as a port, and provide fire offshore in support of movement by Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah units.  The ships’ air defenses could be integrated with Syria’s air defense system.  (Beyond warfighting, it could engage in joint exercises with the Russian Mediterranean fleet.)  Iran might also deploy a close air support capability from attack helicopter units to fighter-bombers to facilitate movement by ground units.  Combat support and combat service support units could be sent in to enhance military movements and Syrian government’s control of recaptured territory.  Within Iran itself, there may be a modest mobilization of Basij volunteers for service in Syria. 

However, attempting to protect large forces projected a long distance from Iranian territory and resources may prove difficult.  If Iranian forces massed in Syria ever reach the point where they could destroy the Free Syrian Army, Iranian forces would risk being attacked by US, EU, and Arab states, coming to opposition’s rescue.  Iranian forces would likely be cut-off and face the real possibility of defeat resulting from airstrikes and cruise missile strikes.  To cite a few examples of this, in Angola in 1987, South African Army forces projected to Angola, were cut-off and defeated by rebels heavily supported by Cuban, Soviet, East German, and Romanian forces.  In 1982, Argentine forces projected to the Falkland Islands were cut-off and defeated by a highly-capable, sea-based force from Britain, with some US non-combat military support.  In 1991, Iraqi forces sent into nearby Kuwait by Saddam Hussein were cut-off and defeated by a US-led multinational coalition of forces.  Of course, attacking Iranian troops in Syria would also mean the Friends of Syria would be at war with Iran.  Iran has made it clear that in a struggle against the US and EU states, it would not hesitate to attack the interests of those states globally.

Second Option

The second option would have Iran fold all of its forces in Syria into the Syrian Armed Forces.  This act would defeat the claim of an Iranian presence in Syria.  Elements of this approach would include leaving Iranian fighters from the IRGC, the Iranian Army, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to remain in Syria, calling them volunteers, and placing them outside of the control of the Iranian government.  This was what occurred during the Bosnia War.  A few thousand IRGC troops and Quds Force trainers folded into the 3rd Corps of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which greatly enhanced the force’s capabilities and the army’s overall combat power.  Russia recently took a similar approach when it removed its military personnel from its Tartus naval base in Syria and replaced them with “civilian workers.”  Russia Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdonov, then made the claim that there was “no one in Syria from the Russian Defense Ministry” and the Tartus naval base had no “military or strategic significance.”  The Washington Post has reported Moscow has an unknown number of military advisers in Syria who help its military operate and maintain Soviet- and Russian- built weapons that make up the core of its arsenals.

To enhance the combat power of units holding volunteers from Iran, the Iranian military could leave dozens of tanks mechanized vehicles, helicopters, heavy artillery, rockets, logistical vehicles, and communications equipment in Syria.  The Quds Force might remain to train, equip, and fight alongside Hezbollah, the National Defense Forces (organized shabiha or paramilitary units), and Iraqi Shi’a militiamen, as part of a covert operation.  Using capabilities provided by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Iran would also possess the capability to engage in targeted killings of senior and field grade commanders in the Free Syrian Army.  The goal would be to degrade the effectiveness of the force.

Syrian, Iranian and Iranian sponsored troops have managed to coordinate well and cooperate on the battlefield.  At Battle of Qusayr, 6000 Syrian Army infantry troops and supporting armor, initiated the assault by seizing ground, and pushing Free Syrian Army outposts into a killing zone.  Missiles and airstrikes attacked Free Syrian Army shelters at their rear, preventing reinforcements and critical supplies from getting through.  IRGC armored units and other regular units fought alongside the National defense Forces, which included “popular committees” of paramilitaries known as shabiha.  The shabiha were trained by the Iranian Quds Forces.  Some 2000 fighters from Hezbollah, sponsored by Iran, were also part of the main attack and took on the mop-up operations in Qusayr while Syrian and Iranian troops move on to take other points in Homs province. 

An Overpowering Look Would Still Be Avoided

Beyond progressively regaining control of strategic towns, Syrian and Iranian forces may continue to avoid engaging in major offensives with attacks across a broad front against the Free Syrian Army held territory in order to present a visibly, “less-dominant” appearance in the conflict.  The full power and capabilities of the Syrian Armed Forces and its allies have not been brought to bear on the Free Syrian Army.  This may give many in the international community the sense that there is no worry that the Free Syrian Army would be overwhelmed, and there really is no need for emergency action, particularly US and EU intervention.  Supporting this “gentler look” of the Syria and its allies, are arguments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, portraying Syria as the victim of European leaders “fuelling the fires of war.”

Additional Iranian Support Possible Under Both Options

Make no mistake, the Russians and Iranians are well-positioned in Syria. Regarding Iran’s efforts, as Vali Nasr, dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, explained in the Chicago Tribune on June 6, 2013, “If there was once a realistic hope that Syria’s civil war would isolate Iran, the prospect has dimmed.”  At stake also for Iran in Syria is the image it seeks to project as a steadfast ally that will not bend to international pressure.  Early on, the Iranians recognized the opening to secure its interests in Syria while other states talked. They, along with the Russians, have raised the bar too high and too fast in the past two years in Syria for the US to do anything too substantial with shipments of high-tech or heavy weapons, even MANPADS, shoulder-launched anti-aircraft rockets—a weapon system always on the Al-Qaida wish-list–to the Free Syrian Army at this point.  This is not Libya, where Muammar al-Gaddafi stood alone against the opposition and Western airpower. In Syria, Assad has very powerful allies ready to support him with money and weapons, and fight alongside his forces. 

Iran could also up the ante by supporting the Syrian Armed Forces with intelligence from espionage, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  It is very likely that at some scale this process is already underway.  According to Geneive Abdo in Foreign Affairs, in the summer of 2011, Iran provided the Assad regime with technology to monitor email, cell phones, and social media.  Iran developed this capability following the 2009 protests and “Green Revolution.”  It invested millions of dollars into creating a “cyber army” to track down dissidents online.  Iran’s monitoring technology is considered among the most sophisticated in the world, second perhaps only to China.  Shortly after Iran shared the surveillance technology with Syria, Assad lifted restrictions on all social networking, most likely to lure dissidents out into the open.

Recent bits of data released by allies of the Assad regime indicate a precise knowledge of most, if not all, aspects of the Free Syrian Army.  The Russian Federal Security Service made it apparent that it had the ability to monitor the activities of 200 Russian and European fighters within the Free Syrian Army in May.  In June, at conference in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly updated that figure from the Federal Security Services, stating 600 Russians and Europeans were within the Free Syrian Army’s ranks.  While the US and European intelligence services expressed concern over the viability of vetting Free Syrian Army fighters to discover who among them are Islamic militants, the Russian intelligence service apparently already possessed files on the identities of a considerable number of Free Syrian Army fighters.  With continued assistance from Iran, Syrian military intelligence services, Mukhabarat, could, themselves, penetrate the Free Syrian Army, having operatives pose as dissenters and deserters who want to join its ranks.  Since the Free Syrian Army has willingly taken on many defectors in company and battalion sized groups without any serious vetting, penetration by Syria’s Mukhabarat may have already occurred.

By moving throughout Syria, particularly Free Syrian Army held territory, Iranian intelligence officers can gain information on all aspects of their opponent’s operations and keep their ear to ground, also getting a sense of the Syrian peoples’ reaction to events.  Moving about in a foreign land, surrounded by the enemy, is dangerous work.  Any fears must be controlled.  Capture by Islamic militant factions could mean torture and summary execution.  Yet, collecting such granular information becomes useful in efforts to shape the battlefield for Syrian and Iranian forces.  Opportunities for doing new things can be discovered.  As discussed in the greatcharlie.com July 13, 2013 post, “President-elect Stirs Optimism in the West, but Talks with Iran Will Likely Be Influenced by the Syrian War,” reports exist alleging that with the assistance of Iranian intelligence and the Quds Force, the Assad’s regime has reached an agreement with the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (Syria).  A rift between that foreign fighter laden, Al-Qaida affiliated faction and Jabhat al-Nusra, a mostly Syrian member Islamic militant faction, was exploited.  The Syrians of Al-Nusra have grown angry at the foreign fighters mistreatment of Syrian citizens as well as their announced plans to create their own Islamic state Syrian territory.  The Syrian opposition says evidence of the agreement is that Assad’s forces have concentrated their military operations against secular Free Syrian Army units, and more recently has avoided contact with units of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (Syria).

Dehghan’s Likely Impact on Rouhani’s Decision Making on Syria

Dehghan is well aware of the advantage Iran has created for Assad by supporting and fighting alongside his forces.  Under either option, Dehghan will continue to enhance the capabilities of Iran’s military and security forces in Syria.  He understands the potential danger that intervention by the Friends of Syria would present to those forces.  However, he has no intention of withdrawing, hesitating, or failing in Syria.  Dehghan likely doubts his potential adversaries would be as committed as Iran to the situation in Syria.

Dehghan, given his previous responsibilities within the Expediency Council, was involved when Iran’s military and security forces entered Syria.  Dehghan will not be willing to surrender the success that those forces have achieved to enable some compromise agreement with the US or anyone else.  He would unlikely advise, support or even entertain any proposal to put before Rouhani to place Iran’s Syria operation on the table for negotiation.  However, in spite of the successes of Assad’s forces with the help of Iran this year, Syria is not yet a complete success.  Assad and his regime’s control over the situation is not secure and sustainable.  The Free Syrian Army still holds territory.  The Friends of Syria, if not completely committed, are still pushing for their desired outcome, Iran’s withdrawal and Assad’s fall.  Dehghan may find that only further advances in Syria can keep his operation from becoming a bargaining chip.  Perhaps Dehghan’s first move, within budgetary constraint, will be to ramp up Iran’s efforts enough to better secure Assad’s position in Syria. That would be his first victory.

Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?

In an August 8, 2013, New York Times article entitled, “Ties Fraying, Obama, Drops Putin Meeting,” it was reported that US President Barack Obama on August 7th, cancelled the Moscow summit meeting set for September, “ending for now his signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.  Four years after declaring a new era between the two former cold war adversaries and after his early successes with the previous Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama concluded, according to the New York Times, “the two sides had grown so far apart again that there was no longer any point in sitting down with President Vladimir V. Putin.”  The August 7th article reported that the immediate cause was Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed secret American surveillance programs.  Yet, according to an administration official who was not authorized to be identified, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.”  The source went on to leak to the New York Times, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians.  They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.”  The US and Russia were already in difficult talks on arms control, missile defense, Syria, trade and human rights.  Obama aides, according to the New York Times, said Moscow was no longer even responding to their proposals. The cancellation did not signal a complete break in US-Russia relations.  Obama reportedly will attend the annual conference of the Group of 20 nations in St. Petersburg, Russia on September 5th and 6th, but he will not meet with Putin one-on-one, as customary.  On August 9th, two days after the summit cancellation, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The New York Times also quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.”  However, this statement caps the collection of words and actions that may indicate there is great variance between what original goals of the long-standing practice of engaging in summit meetings, which was to build stronger ties between the US and Russia, between their respective leaders, and what the Obama administration’s concept that summits served as a platform to push forward its political agenda and secure the president’s legacy concerning arms control.  Cancelling the summit may very well have damaged US-Russian relations for the remainder of Obama’s tenure.  It was a blow against the summit process.  However, it may also have adversely impacted prospects for direct talks between the US and other states, US efforts to facilitate negotiations, create a negative image of the US worldwide, and weaken global peace and security.

US-Russian Summits

One of the most important foreign and defense policy issues facing the US is it relationship with Russia.  During the Second World War as allies, throughout the Cold War as adversaries, as a member and the driving force behind the Soviet Union, and since the end of the Cold War as an independent state, Russia has been prominent in US thinking on the protection of US interest worldwide and the establishment of global peace and security.  During the Cold War, despite proxy wars and other confrontations and conflicts, of high and low gradients, along the course of the Cold War, both states, while possessing the unique and mutual capability to annihilate one another and the world with their nuclear arsenals, did not.  Even during the most troubled times, relations between US and Russian leaders were maintained through a difficult process of summit meetings.  Such Cold War meetings may also have been distasteful for leaders on either side to undergo.  Truman met with Stalin.  Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy both met with Nikita Khrushchev.  Lyndon Johnson met Aleksei Kosygin.  Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter met with Leonid Brezhnev.  Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev.  George H.W. Bush met with both Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.  It was recognized by both states that the direct talks between leaders were critical to avoiding nuclear war.  The leaders of both the US and Russia have a primary responsibility to meet their citizens’ aspiration to live in peace, free from the threat of devastating nuclear war.  That requires the Obama and Putin to take every step necessary, within the interests of their states, to ensure that peace is maintained.  While they may be at odds personally, making a meeting between leaders an unpleasant undertaking, they still must still talk.  As Aleksei Pushkov, Chairman of the Russian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee explained to the New York Times, “The bilateral relationship has come to an impasse.  It makes it all the more necessary for the two presidents to meet and to try to work out a new agenda for the relations.”

Summit talks allowed US and Russian leaders to move from mutual suspicion toward mutual trust in their states relations.  Talks built confidence, eliminated ambiguities about positions, and prevent and guessing over actions, intentions, and motives.  Talks also allowed leaders to “clear the air” regarding any personal concerns they had within their own high-level relationship.  The willingness of both US and Russian leaders to maintain the practice of meeting at the highest level of government, and the eventual establishment of a “red-phone” or direct communication between the White House and the Kremlin, contributed greatly to maintenance of global peace and security.  Close contact between leaders gave each a chance to look into the others thinking and sense one another’s feelings.  Everything the other said or how the other reacted to statements was important to know.  Every inflexion, tone, and change in the others voice provided some insight as to what was on a leader’s mind.  Only in that way, could US and Russian leaders even begin to trust one another.  In June 2001, President George W. Bush declared after meeting Putin, to the relief of some fearing a new Cold War, that he had “looked Putin in the eye and was able to get a sense of his soul.”  Even if a leader determined his counterpart was as not being forthright or simply being deceptive, it was, and remains, important to have the opportunity to confirm this through talks.  Negative perceptions are as important to gather as positive ones and must be factored appropriately in the effort to identify and create real opportunities for compromise.

During a crisis, it was very important for the leaders to have a good understanding of as many aspects their counterparts as possible.  During the Cold War, there was always the potential for a crisis to arise.  In fact there were a few. Those crises more often studied in colleges and universities include: the Berlin Airlift (1946), the Korean Peninsula (1950), Hungarian Revolution (1956), the U-2 Spy Plane Incident (1958), the Berlin Crisis (1961), the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the Czechoslovakia Uprising (1968), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Gdansk Shipyard Uprising (1980), the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan (1980), and Korean Airlines Flight 007 Shoot-Down (1983).  Unforeseen circumstances, placing the US and Russia on the verge of confrontation and conflict could lead to serious crises as well today.  (Potential issues could include: the accidental shoot down of a Russian MiG-29 by a US F-16 over Syria, a collision between US and Russian warships in the Mediterranean, or the killing of Russian personnel as a result of kinetic strikes on targets in Syria, etc.)  It is far too dangerous to allow any misperceptions to exist. In a crisis, a misperception could result in a grave misstep.  The understanding that US and Russian leaders have of the others thinking at the moment of crisis, despite intelligence available and meetings at the ministerial level, will greatly inform the chief executive’s own assessment and eventual response to the crisis.  The most recent meeting would be prominent in the minds of both leaders.  Frequent meetings between the two leaders would allow them time to develop a “fresh” understanding of each other, and enhances prospects for fence mending.  As a result of Obama’s decision to cancel his September meeting with Putin, the last occasion during which the two leaders could interact was June 17, 2013, in Northern Ireland.  That meeting went poorly.  As Andrei Piontovsky, who is executive director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow, was quoted in the August 7th, New York Times article as saying, “Putin openly despises your president, forgive my bluntness.”  Piontovsky also told the New York Times that “Putin sensed weakness in Mr. Obama that could lead to more dangerous confrontations.”

Obama, Putin and Divergent Thinking

In preparation for an initial summit talk, leaders must learn as much about one another as possible as well as any urgent and important issues before them.  What the leaders initially discover is learned in the abstract from reports.  After initial summit talks, it would make little sense to continue to set policy goals and approaches based primarily on information developed in the abstract rather than an understanding of leaders, to include his views on issues and his intentions.  Doing so would defeat the purpose of direct talks, and a dangerously limited understanding of a counterpart’s thinking could result. Adjustments in thinking must occur.  If after summit talks, policy goals and approaches developed are not reached or fail, then it is apparent that an understanding of one’s’ counterpart was not correctly developed.  

It appears that despite different background, experiences, and variety of cultural and other factors, Obama’s advisers reached the erroneous conclusion that Putin’s thinking paralleled his own.  Further, it should not have been expected that a positive relationship between Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would transfer to a direct relationship between Obama and Putin.  It should not have been assumed that the relationship that US President George W, Bush had with Putin, could mean Obama also would have a positive relationship with the Russian leader.  Mutual respect, understanding, and friendship needed to be acquired through interactions.   The reasoning behind the Obama administration’s decision to send Putin proposals on a variety of issues, some of which he had already in which he had expressed no interest, and after observing his demeanor in Northern Ireland, is difficult to understand.  It is unclear how Obama administration advisers assessed Putin would suddenly be convinced to accept what he already rejected.  The leaders did not have any occasion to improve their own relationship.  Now, it is unlikely that much will be achieved between the two leaders.

Acting upon what is discovered in the abstract can adversely impact summit talks, themselves.  Presenting proposals or even taking steps on an issue of mutual interest, having reached an incorrect conclusions on a counterparts most likely response, based on reports and other data, will likely illicit a negative response.  As a courtesy, and in an effort to avoid such difficulties, it would be best to delay any large steps relevant to the relationship until after there has been some dialogue and an understanding of goals and interest between the leaders is established.  Any planned steps could even be discussed at the meeting.  That builds confidence.  It is uncertain as to how Putin regarded Obama’s decision to bring his family to the Moscow for his first summit meeting with Medvedev in 2009.  It should have been made completely clear to Medvedev, Putin and their advisers that meeting was the paramount objective of the visit.  Obama may have felt that bringing his family to Moscow displayed and openness and degree of trust he had for the Russians.  Yet, from the mind’s eye of the Putin, a former KBG (Soviet Security Service) operative, who was actually the real power in the Russian Government as Prime Minister, that choice may have been viewed as a distraction, or attempt, almost as form of tradecraft, to lull Medvedev and himself into a false sense of security.  (Tradecraft refers generally to skills used in clandestine service to include efforts to manipulate opponents.)  Putin and his advisers could have concluded Obama was using his own family in an obvious effort at manipulation.  That most certainly would have displeased Putin, and starting his thinking on Obama off on the wrong foot.  Other steps by Obama may also have drawn suspicion from Putin.  This type of thinking by Putin was evident at a news conference between Obama and Putin in Northern Ireland in June 2013.  When Obama tried a little levity stating, “We compared notes on President Putin’s expertise in judo and my declining skills in basketball and we both agreed that as you get older it takes more time to recover.”  However, instead of playing along, Putin sternly retorted, “The president wants to relax me with his statement of age.”   

Mutual Respect and Public Statements

When US and Russian leaders meet, there should not be the thought to report more than necessary about what was said during the meeting, particularly if it creates a very negative impression of the other.  This is counterproductive and could destroy the summit method for the two leaders to talk.  The word “summit refers to meeting as if the leaders where high up on the summit of a mountain, where no one could hear them talk.  During an August 9, 2013 White House Press Conference, according to a transcript published on that date by the Washington Post, Obama explained that there were “a number of emerging differences that we’ve seen over the last several months around Syria, around human rights issues, where, you know, its probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia’s going, what our core interests are, and calibrate the relationship.”  Obama stated that “our decision to not participate in the summit was not simply around Mr. Snowden, it had to do with the fact that, frankly, on a whole range of issues where we think we can make some progress, Russia has not moved.”   On Putin directly, Obama commented, “When we have conversations, they’re candid.  They’re blunt.  Oftentimes they’re constructive.  I know the press likes to focus on body language, and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.  But the truth is, is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes its very constructive.”  Later on NBC News “Meet the Press,” on August 11, 2013, journalist, David Brooks of the New York Times, referred to Obama’s cancellation of the summit meeting as a “smack down of Putin.” 

Describing the other leader in unflattering terms, despite any disappointment or dissatisfaction is an error.  Summit meetings represent a remarkable opportunity for US and Russian leaders to prove themselves as reliable global partners, but courtesy, mutual respect, and peace must be maintained.  The fact that meeting in Northern Ireland was established and attended by Putin was evidence enough of his willingness to talk.  Apologists for Putin might explain that the body language he displayed, through his posture, indicating his impressions, was not deliberate.  It was a genuine expression of his feelings at an inopportune time.  Interestingly, when leaders express, themselves, before advisers in their governments, as a technique, and perhaps as a habit, they often communicate likes and dislikes through body language.  Nevertheless, there was no cause to disparage Putin regarding it.  Criticizing Putin publicly, by evaluating his contribution to summit discussions and by making denigrating statements about his appearance, can only further damage the US-Russian relationship, and most certainly, Obama’s relationship with Putin.  Taking such giant steps backward in developing trust will make moving forward on talks with that Putin extremely difficult, if not impossible.  What was driving Putin to display such disapproval should be at issue.  It should be addressed by the two leaders and overcome. 

Attempts at shaping public perceptions of the relationship between the two leaders may not always yield the desired result.  While the Obama administration is certain of its decision, other states and other leaders may not view the cancellation as an appropriate step.  This effort may create two “public relations blocs” of states, one supportive of the Obama and the other in support of Putin.  (When Putin meets with Rouhani during an announced meeting in September, undoubtedly he will provide Rouhani with a “complete” picture of what occurred from the inside.)   Obama, as well as Putin, must show restraint.  In the US, as of late, even the most sensitive information, from covert operations, cyber attacks, and classified names, places, and activities of operations undertaken in previous administrations are anonymously leaked to the press almost routinely.  Putin has not made any comments about Obama’s August 9th press conference.

The Cancellation’s Impact on Other Negotiations and Direct Talks

Obama’s decision to cancel his meeting with Putin also has the potential to greatly harm the global dialogue among states.  Obama’s decision sets a precedent.  The cancellation will likely have an educational effect on other leaders reluctant to engage in talks on their respective counterparts on difficult issues.  The world could witness leaders more frequently choosing action rather dialogue to resolve issues.  Both Obama and Putin, in many ways, serve as “role models” for leaders of other states and non-state actors in negotiations.   Previously, in situations where parties are unwilling to come to the table, US and Russian negotiators could always point to own talks between their leaders as an example of how even great adversaries eventually can come to table and reach some agreement on issues.  At the moment, for the US at least, that is no longer the case.  Issues over which leaders states in opposition needed to meet, may now have a far less chance of being resolved.  As role models for other world leaders it is essential that Obama and Putin act in a manner to facilitate dialogue, even if issues are difficult to resolve just their predecessors had during the Cold War. 

On both Syria and on Israel-Palestine, it would be difficult for the US claim moral authority to challenge any refusal either side to talk.  Indeed, there would be little the US could say without appear hypocritical, if parties to either negotiation were to cancel a meeting.  It could represent and new and unusual situation where the US may no longer be viewed as a genuine facilitator of negotiations.  Secretary of State Kerry has invested considerable time and effort on both issues, and it has been difficult for the US to bring parties to the table for negotiations.  Kerry’s job may have been made a lot harder as a result of Obama decision not to meet Putin.  US efforts to establish better relations and a dialogue between other states may have been compromised. 

North Korean and Iranian leaders might find it far more difficult to reach out to the US for direct talks.  Undoubtedly, crossing the divide, to open negotiations with the US, was already a very difficult and potentially politically destructive undertaking for leaders of those states.  Any attempts at establishing direct talks now would reasonably be discouraged by Obama’s decision.  For Secretary Kerry, it would be difficult enough to get serious talks started with North Korea and Iran, and create some compromise with those states.  It was thought by some that the involvement of Obama in the process would jump start efforts and he would bring fresh thinking with him.  On North Korea, experts have indicated Kim Jong-Un seeks a serious dialogue with the US and wants to be convinced the US intends him and his country no harm.  However, given Obama’s cancellation of his meeting with Putin, there is assurance Obama will follow-through with the negotiation process.  In Iran, the new president, Hassan Rouhani has indicated a desire to have direct talks with the US.  He has done so in the face of opposition from conservative and hard-line political leaders.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stated, “The Americans are unreliable and illogical, and are not honest in their approach.”  By cancelling the meeting with Putin, evidence was provided in support of the most negative views expressed in Iran of US intentions, and Rouhani’s position on direct talks invariably has been weakened.  It would be counterintuitive for a state to negotiate with a leader who has the potential to simply cancel or withdraw from talks if the leader opposite him is not to his liking, regardless of the issues at hand.  The behavior is simply destructive.  Without assurances that Obama could serve as a reliable party to negotiations, it would be difficult to believe any state would seek to have the leader in the process or reach a settlement during his tenure as president.  This situation should also be closely monitored to discern responses as they may relate to the summit cancellation.

Assessment

While it appears somewhat difficult for Obama to accept just how great the difference between  Putin’s thinking and his own.  Being unable to reach a compromise and agreement on the nuclear issue, as well as others should neither be the cause to cease all talks.  Reacting in frustration is never the right answer.  Obama and Putin arrived to power from to completely different paths, having two very different backgrounds.  For Putin, nuclear weapons are not simply a policy issue.  Nuclear weapons are viewed as a means of survival for Russia.  Reducing Russia’s nuclear arsenal to a level, determined through the bean-counting of nuclear forces by US analysts, would never be acceptable.  He is concerned with his nuclear forces’ capabilities, real and emerging threats, and human nature.  The reduction of nuclear forces and reductions in conventional forces have been issues US and Russian leaders have dealt with for decades.  Being in a contentious relationship, Obama and Putin were unlikely to be the ones to resolve the nuclear issue.  Pushing Putin to accept proposals in which he was not interested would never achieve anything positive.  Insisting the September summit be used to deal with such proposals was a doomed effort.

By inviting Obama to Moscow for summit talks, Putin indicated a desire to engage in dialogue.  US-Russian summit should not have become opportunities to take for granted.  Putin left the door open for Obama to cancel, perhaps not thinking that he would.  Putin could have cancelled the meeting himself.  He, too, was part of the difficult meeting between the two leaders in Northern Ireland in June and was aware that communications between his advisers and Obama’s had stalled, and Russia was not responding to proposals being sent from the US.  However, Putin did not cancel.  Frank and tough talk can have its place, but at this point, genuine communication about concerns and goals is required.  Over the years, that has been the essence of summitry.  From the first summit meeting during the Cold War to the most recent in June, building the relationship between US and Russian leaders, building confidence, and establishing mutual trust remains a primary goal of the meeting.  Business can be done during talks.  However, with the summit meetings being so few, and so intense, and relations between Obama and Putin being strained, using summit talks as a platform to push a unilateral political agenda, was a terrible mistake.

Perhaps there could be a return to the original concept of summitry.  Obama and Putin need to improve their relationship.  The rest of the world is watching, and other leaders will very likely follow their example.  They could meet again, not to score political points, complete some political agenda, or establish anyone’s legacy, but in the name of their citizens and in the name of global peace and security.  According to the New York Times, Yuri Yushakov, an adviser to Putin, explained.  “The United States is not ready to build relations on an equal basis.”  This point may be the very basis on which to start a new, and more productive, conversation.

Iranian President Is Sworn In and Presents a New Cabinet of Familiar Faces, Including Javad Zarif

In an August 5, 2013, New York Times article entitled, “Iranian President Sworn In and Presents His New Cabinet of Familiar Faces,” the events surrounding Hassan Rouhani’s swearing in ceremony, and his press conference afterward, were reported.  According to the article, Rouhani, in a speech after the ceremony offered hope to the Iranian people and a new path for Iran internationally.  Rouhani, the New York Times explained, stated that his election showed the Iranian people want ‘to live free,” and “are longing for change and progress.”  Regarding his cabinet, the article noted Rouhani’s choice for foreign minister, Javad Zarif, “raised the most eyebrows.”  This was a curious statement concerning Zarif.  Yet, the article did not discuss what was meant by it.  Rather it went on to explain Zarif, 53, has lived half his life in the US.  It stated that he is fluent in English and served from 2002 to 2007 as Iran’s ambassador to the UN.  The New York Times piece also noted that Zarif was part of Rouhani’s negotiating team, which in 2003, struck a deal with European states to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment.  Zarif still needs to be confirmed by Parliament.  Looking at Zarif’s background and experience, he would appear to be an obvious choice for foreign minister.  No one who has ever had the opportunity to interact directly with Zarif would doubt his qualification for the post.  For the US, his selection creates the best possibility for positive progress to be made in US-Iran relations.

As the member of greatcharlie.com who had the privilege to interact with Zarif and his associates at the Iranian Mission to the UN on numerous occasions while he was Iran’s permanent representative to the UN, my colleagues at greatcharlie have urged me to weigh-in with a few insights on Javad Zarif, and explain why he is an excellent choice for foreign minister.  This approach was more acceptable than having another culleague write a report on Zarif in the abstract, basing it simply on reports and articles. Previously, my colleagues urged me, having visted Iran during the period of Hassan Rouhani’s tenure as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and having met with members of that organization, to weigh-in with a few insights on how Hassan Rouhani may perceive events occurring in Syria.  The result was the July 3rd greatcharlie.com past entitled “The President-elect of Iran Says He Will Engage the West, But Don’t Think He Will Give in to It.”  Seeking to remain discreet concerning my discussions with Zarif and his associates, presented is some information that may shed light on his perspectives on foreign policy and diplomacy.

Zarif is a highly intelligent, very energetic, very capable, and considerate gentleman that would be a pleasure for anyone to meet.  He holds a Ph.D. in International Law and Policy from the Graduate School of International Studies of the University of Denver.  Zarif was acreer diplomat and served in different senior positions in the Iranian Foreign Ministry.  In addition to being a diplomat, he served as a Visiting Professor of International Law at Tehran University, teaching human rights, international law, and multilateral diplomacy.  Zarif played a leading role at the UN, the Non-aligned Movement, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.  He has written extensively on disarmament, human rights, international law, regional conflicts, and US-Iran relations. 

At the Mission of Iran to the UN, Zarif’s associates described him as being professional capable, honest, forthright, generous, friendly, and very likable.  They would often explain how it was a privilege to work with someone so dedicated, motivated each day to work hard for his country and tackle its most critical issues on the international stage.  They claimed that his enthusiasm was contagious.  In the mission, Zarif changed the stark office surroundings maintained by his predecessor with leather upholstered furniture and the superb wool carpets and runners from Iran.  Books, “copper-work” trays and vases, and ceramics were brought in.  Unique and exquisite paintings from Zarif’s personal art collection adorned the walls of the mission’s rooms and halls.  A memorable piece was a faintly brush stroked image of a cragged mountain top on camel skin by an artist named Tabrizi located in the meeting room.

Zarif was extremely popular in New York and wherever he spoke in the US–whenever he was able to travel beyond the limits set on travel for Iranian diplomats in the US.  He would give brilliant speeches at think-tanks, membership organizations, and colleges and universities on Iran, US-Iran relations, and other important issues in international affairs.  Zarif’s door at the Iranian Mission to the UN was usually open to academics, think-tank analysts, research fellows, independent scholars, journalists, students, business leaders, and nearly anyone else, when he had time available, to respond to questions or simply discuss Iran.  Zarif was a student of US, and through these interactions, he managed to keep his finger on America’s pulse.

Talking to Zarif about Iran’s foreign policy, he often would seek to counter very negative perspectives proffered by academics, scholars, and analysts on the formulation and implementation of Iran’s foreign policy.  Most common was the idea that Iran’s policies were based on revolutionary zeal and that Tehran was reactionary, never basing its decisions on strategy or giving strong consideration to outcomes.  All those who ever met with Zarif could probably quote his mantra on Iran, calling it “a country not in revolution, but in evolution.”  In that respect, policy formulation and implementation by the Islamic republic today is quite different than it was previous years, and it continues to develop.  In Zarif’s view, it was the US that was unable to look the future with hope, and only looked to the past with bitterness.  Nevertheless, Zarif believed strongly that dialogue was critical to developing and maintaining positive relations between states.  Those familiar Zarif also were likely gifted with a copy of Crossing the Divide, Dialogue Among Civilizations, published by the School of Diplomacy and International Relations of Seton Hall University.  The precepts compiled in the book were those of Zarif and other UN permanent representatives, and academics, seeking to explain how to establish a constructive dialogue among nations now and into the future, in the face of growing challenges to global peace and security.

Given his dedication to the notion of dialogue as the key to global peace and security, it was no wonder that Zarif, while at the UN, fell into the unofficial role of “the UN diplomat’s mentor.”  Senior diplomats from other UN Member States, with either issues before the UN Security Council or in negotiations, unrelated to Iran, would very often seek Zarif;s counsel, knowing that he would bring to the discussion his expertise on UN procedure and some fresh thinking.  More often than not, his advice on an issue would make a positive difference.  Zarif’s efforts to find solutions to an array of different issues were authentic, and most likely driven by his intellectual curiosity, and to some degree, by empathy.  Being an Iranian diplomat, he could understand the dilemma of others facing difficult negotiations or an impasse.  Few states that received Zarif’s assistance in this manner ever publicly acknowledged his efforts.  The legitimate fear of admonishment or retribution from the US was very likely the rationale for that behavior.  (Interestingly, it could be argued that Zarif’s position of establishing and maintaining a dialogue with other states fell within Rouhani’s concept expressed in a book on foreign affairs which is, “We [Iran] need to keep a good relation with the people; only with them we can continue to resist and confront the U.S.A.”)

The strong sense of patriotism that Zarif possessed for his country would become most apparent whenever Iran’s nuclear energy program was being discussed.  Zarif would emphasize that Iran did not have nuclear weapons and did not seek to have them.   He would explain that nuclear weapons only serve as a deterrent, and if a state concealed the fact that it had them, the weapons’ use as a deterrent would be lost.  Zarif made it clear that Iran recognized its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to which it was committed, as well as the comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  Demands at the time by the Bush administration for greater compliance and verification were viewed by Zarif as an effort to politicize and undermine the International Atomic Energy Agency’s system of inspection and voluntary verification.

In one meeting, Zarif explained that it would be irresponsible for Iranian government not to seek access to more diversified and secure sources of energy.  Although Iran is rich in oil and gas, those resources are finite.  He stated that the Iranian population was projected to grow to 103 million by 2050.  Zarfi predicted that the increased demand for energy resources with that population growth would result in the total depletion of oil and gas resources within 20 to 30 years.  He saw the US demand that Iran rely on fossil energy as a recipe for disaster in his country.  Moreover, Zarif would explain that attempting to adjust to meet the increase in domestic demand for energy would reduce the availability of energy to meet foreign demand.  That would result in a dramatic reduction in Iran’s oil import revenues.  Iran’s national economy, which is reliant upon those revenues, would suffer immensely.  Zarif saw the proposal that Iran could keep a nuclear energy program under the requirement that it compromise by acquiring fuel for its multi-billion dollar nuclear program from Russia or other foreign states as counterintuitive.  By doing so, Zarif assessed Iran would by subjecting itself to the political whims of suppliers in a tightly controlled market.

Upon the arrival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the scene, change was sought in the approach to formulating and implementing Iran’s foreign policy.  The goal of Ahmadinejad and his adviser was to put policy making in line with his their more aggressive approach to relating with the world.  While revised histories of Ahmadinejad’s presidency point to disappointment among the populace and its failures internationally, that was not completely the case, particularly in his first term.  Ahmadinejad took over Iran’s presidency at a time when Iran had faced threats of coercive diplomacy, pre-emptive strikes and  military options.  Iran was called part of an “Axis of Evil.”  US and other foreign troops occupied Iran’s neighbors east and west, in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Ahmadinejad engaged in fiery exchanges with the West, and made it clear to his conservative leaning political base that he was prepared to pursue and engage Iran’s adversaries.  He presided over Iran’s support of Hezbollah in its war with Israel in 2006, which resulted in Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.  He ramped up Iran’s efforts against US and coalition forces in Iraq, using the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Quds Force to train Iraqi Shi’a militias and to allegedly supply sophisticated rocket propelled explosive devices to insurgents.  He facilitated Hezbollah’s entry into the Iraq conflict.  He intensified counter-narcotics efforts and waged a counter-terror war against Jundallah along Iran’s border with Pakistan.  In Afghanistan, he directed the Quds Force to work with elements of the Taliban against US and coalition forces, and had them strengthen Iran’s influence over towns and villages in Afghan provinces along Iran’s eastern border.  (This was all quite contrary to Iran’s initial effort after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, in which it worked in tandem with the US led military effort supporting the Northern Alliance and playing a constructive role in the Bonn Process that brought Afghan President Hamid Karzai to power.)

Ahmadinejad’s momentum on the international stage posed problems for those involved in Iran’s diplomatic efforts.  He selected Manoucher Mottaki as foreign minister.  Mottaki proved to be a capable diplomat. (Perhaps this is in part why he was relieved in 2010.)  However, Ahmadinejad wanted to effect more change.  He viewed many of Iran’s seasoned diplomats as being out of step with his foreign policy concept.  Ahmadinejad culled the foreign ministry of such personnel and relieved several ambassadors of their posts.  Although he accomplished much during Ahmadinejad first term, and worked well with Foreign Minister Mottaki, Zarif became an obvious target for Ahmadinejad and his advisers.  In 2007, Zarif was called back to Tehran.  However, it was thought by some in the Iranian community that Zarif faced a greater issue than being called home.  Tension was thick during a gathering organized on June 25, 2007, by the Iranian Mission to the UN to bid Zarif farewell, as rumors gently floated in the room that Zarif might encounter difficulties from very dangerous extremists in Ahmadinejad’s camp.  Those extremists viewed Zarif in particular as being debris from the weak administration of President Mohammad Khatami which sought compromise with the West, even the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program.  They were disinterested in Zarif’s intellect, experience, and capabilities.  Zarif returned to Iran, and apparently was never harmed. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry is a very discreet person who undoubtedly has an interest in improving relations with Iran.  Zarif is someone with whom Kerry would be able to have a dialogue and with which Kerry would be able to form a good relationship.  The US needs to talk directly with Iran.  Rouhani, before and after he was sworn in, indicated a willingness to have direct talks with the US.  However, no one in the administration of US President Barack Obama should expect miracles.  Iran will not simply give up its nuclear program at this juncture.  In fact, the August 5th, New York Times article stated, “Rouhani emphasized that sanctions and even war, would not change the minds of Iran’s leaders regarding the nuclear program.”  Demanding Iran give up its nuclear program, as a first step in talks, will only lead to greater tension. 

There is a need for continued contact and communication between Washington and Tehran over time.  Efforts such as the proposal by the US Congress to impose further sanctions on Iran just before Rouhani took office might normally put up barriers to Washington or Tehran initiating dialogue.  However, it is such very poorly timed incidents and other encumbrances coming from both sides that Kerry and Zarif could work through.  Diplomacy works around the world, and Zarif is great at it.  Rather than raise eyebrows, Zarif’s selection as foreign minister should have been met by smiles in both the US and Iran.

President-Elect Stirs Optimism in the West But Talks With Iran Will Likely Be Influenced By the Syrian War

In a July 27, 2013 article in the New York Times, entitled “President-Elect Stirs Optimism in Iran and West,” incoming Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, is portrayed as a Iranian leader with which the West can talk, and get a compromise from on the Iranian nuclear issue.  Comments Rouhani has made since his July 15th election victory, and a message brought to the US in July by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki explaining that Rouhani wanted to start direct talks, were proffered in the article to sustain the idea of Rouhani being open to compromise.  Perspectives on Rouhani’s thinking were also gathered from his current and former associates who spoke to the New York Times in anonymity, admittedly defying Rouhani’s request that no one to speak in his name.  In their interviews they claimed Rouhani was “Long known as fiercely intelligent” and known for his “ability to navigate a system dominated by ideologues, building consensus among many opposing forces.”  The July 27th article also referred to associates’ discussion of Rouhani as “a deal maker who has had a direct hand in most of Iran’s major foreign policy decisions over the past three decades.”

Yet, deeper into the article–the eighteenth paragraph, the hopefulness expressed over Rouhani’s “potential” for the West, was tempered by comments from the same anonymous current and former associates, cautioning the West about being overly optimistic.  Some associates reportedly explained Rouhani “was above all, a Shiite Muslim cleric who has dedicated his life to the Islamic Revolution, which he will never betray.”  One explained that “Our opponents are wrong to expect compromises from Rouhani; the sanctions and other pressures will not make us change our stances.”  That associate went on to state, “Rouhani is interested in a dialogue, not a monologue, with the West. He is prepared to reach common ground, but only if the other side is ready to reach common ground.”

As the July 27th New York Times article is outlined, one can accept Rouhani either as a deal maker, allowing the West to achieve its goals concerning Iran and ending the sanctions thwarting economic development in Iran, or a fierce nationalist, who will not cave in to Western demands.  For those optimists who would choose the former outlook, perhaps they would also need to consider the impact the urgent issue of Syria might have on any nuclear negotiations with Iran.  Interestingly, Western analysts discussing future nuclear negotiations and Rouhani, rarely apply the situation in Syria in their publicized analyses.  (This “avoidance behavior” in their writings is very similar to that seen in publicized analyses made on Syria, which until recently, more often excluded an examination of the role of Russia or Iran.  It was a source of amusement in Moscow.)  Perhaps analysts have chosen not to discuss Syria given its complexities and given so many had wrongly projected its outcome for the past two years.  However, Syria is an issue that should be examined in the context of how Iran has developed as an actor on the global stage, now being able to successfully project force, on its own, long distances from home, and how the situation in Syria may influence any negotiations with Iran.  It is uncertain how US would be able to find compromise with Iran on Syria.

Syria Has Not Been a Success for the US, Especially with Regard to Iran

Initially, US officials engaged in Syria with the goal to tip the balance in favor of the Syrian opposition on the battlefield and drive Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table.  Displeased by Iran’s presence on the ground in Syria, the goal was also established to roll back Iranian forces and the forces of Iran’s Lebanese partner, Hezbollah, that have helped turned the tables in favor of Assad.  The US also hoped that by supporting the downfall of Assad’s regime in Syria, Iran would lose its main ally in the Middle East, lose a vital link to its partner, Hezbollah, and stand isolated in the region.  Once isolated, it was hoped Iran would become even more vulnerable to US and international pressure to limit its nuclear program.  However, as Vali Nasr, dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, explained in the Chicago Tribune on June 6, 2013, “If there was once a realistic hope that Syria’s civil war would isolate Iran, the prospect has dimmed.”  Through its success, Iran instead has increased its standing as a player in the Middle East and has created the impression that it has successfully reduced the ability of the US to influence events in Syria.  Of course, Russia, the Assad regime’s main ally, has promoted Iran’s success in Syria.

By all accounts, the US enterprise in Syria to date has been a failure.  According to a July 2013 NATO assessment of the situation in Syria, completed in consultation with US and EU intelligence services, it was determined that Assad’s forces have already ended any short-term or mid-term threat from the Syrian rebels.  The report predicted that Assad’s forces, with Russian and Iranian support, would capture major Free Syrian Army strongholds with the exception of northern Syria by the end of 2013.  NATO concluded that the military campaign of the Free Syria Army–a loose umbrella organization of nearly 1200 groups and fighting force of Supreme Military Council, the military-wing of the Syrian opposition–had failed over the past three months.  Mainstream Free Syrian Army groups were not getting stronger or achieving much.  Officials said that the Syrian component of the Free Syrian Army had deteriorated dramatically since April and the point had been reached where it was difficult to distinguish who was determined to fight the Assad regime and who was simply out to collect a paycheck.  Moreover, NATO assessed that Syrians, including those in Islamic militant factions, were no longer doing the bulk of the fighting against the Assad regime.  Rather, the majority of fighting was being borne by foreign fighters, most of them, Salafist/Jahiddis, affiliated with Al-Qaida.  The US intelligence community has indicated that Islamic militant elements, left unchecked in Syria, will continue the trend of the past two years of growing in size, capability and effectiveness. 

To make matters worse for the US, it has been alleged that with the assistance of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and its Quds Force, the Assad regime has reached an agreement with the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (Syria).  Assad regime and its allies managed to exploit a rift between the foreign fighter laden, Islamic State of Iraq and Al Shan (Syria) and the mostly Syrian member Islamic militant faction, Jabhat Al-Nusra.  The Syrians of Al-Nusra have been angered by the foreign fighters mistreatment of Syrian citizens as well as their announced independent plans to create their own Islamic state Syrian territory.  The Syrian opposition says evidence of the agreement is that Assad’s forces have concentrated their military operations against secular Free Syrian Army units, and more recently has avoided contact with units of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (Syria).

The Impact of Syria on Iranian Thinking

Iran’s successful rejuvenation of Assad’s forces, reversal of the situation on the ground in Syria, and rescue of Assad’s presidency, has ostensibly had a very uplifting effect upon Iran’s military and security forces, as well as conservative political leaders in Tehran.  The Syria operation has demonstrated to Iran that it can overcome the superiority of Western powers on an issue important to both the Western and Iranian interests.  Additionally, Iran has shown that it understands how to maneuver against the West.  The key lies in the quality of its thinking.  While decision makers may delay or stall on issues, due to domestic political issues in the US or EU (i.e., 2012 US Presidential and Congressional elections or political infighting on an issue within the Congress or between the White House and the Congress.), Iran will seize that opportunity to make gains, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, or on the nuclear issue.  In US football terms, Iran seeks to get into the open field where it can run.  The Iranians have learned to ensure that the steps they take, particularly with regard to operations outside of their borders, are sustainable.  They will consider in advance how secure their efforts against eventual attempts by opponents to defeat or disrupt them. 

For Iran, every moment of time is viewed in itself as an opportunity to shape a situation.  Recently, political leaders and policymakers in the US, too often have made the assumption that decisions and action on foreign policy can be delayed and later responded to with money or the application of military force.  That is no longer a feasible.  To that extent, Iran’s success in part has been the result of a decline in the quality of US foreign policy making and decision making during the first term of the Obama administration.

Success in Syria may have also convinced Iran’s leaders that continued maneuvering against the West is a viable approach on the nuclear issue, despite sanctions and threats of military action.  Consider that regardless of the state of negotiations between Iran and the West over the years, Iran has continued to make progress on its nuclear program.  Iran very likely believes that once it successfully acquires the nuclear energy capability it seeks, the genie will essentially be out of the bottle, and a new situation will exist.  It is somewhat likely that Iran may have calculated that at that point, further sanctions or threats of action against Iran, over its nuclear ebergy program, except among some of its neighbors, would unlikely be viewed as constructive or acceptable internationally.

During the Bosnian War, 1992-1995, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and other Iranian security elements such as the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and Quds Force operated successfully on the ground.  They integrated their operations with those of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Iran demonstrated its ability to project force away from its territory in support of its interests and work in concert with allies to airlift arms supplies to its allies.  As it was explained in a July 3, 2013 greatcharlie.com post entitled, “The President-elect of Iran Says He Will Engage the West, But Don’t Think He Will Give in to It,” the Bosnia experience very likely served to guide the Iran’s initial approach on Syria.  Yet, given the achievements of those same Iranian military and security organizations in Syria, the operation now stands alone as a success.  While the US and its allies debated and hesitated on Syria from 2011 to 2013, Iran, along with Russia and Hezbollah, provided both arms and nonlethal support of significant quality and quantity to the Assad regime.  Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Ministry of Intelligence and Security and Quds Force personnel also went into Syria in large numbers.  Iran became an important factor in Syria, giving the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad the power to regain and retain control over the situation on the ground and change the course Syrian civil war in his regime’s favor.  Iran now appears ready to do whatever necessary to sustain its success in Syria.

A Compromise Might Be Reached on Syria, But Time Is Running Short

Zbigniew Brzezinski, on July 23, 2013, wrote on Twitter, “A compromise with Iran could help resolve the Syria mess—and resolving the Syria mess could make accommodation with Iran easier.”   This is absolutely the case.  However, if Syria is to become part of the dialogue, it will be tough to find what form that compromise will take.  Unlike previous years, when the West would have the upper hand in negotiations, pushing a diplomatic solution by using a credible threat to use force against Iran.  Iran’s position in Syria is strong enough to allow Iranian negotiators to use it as a card to seek compromise from the West.  It is also quite clear that given planned extraordinary force cuts in Western armed forces, there is little taste for more war.

Syria has provided Iran with the opportunity to project the image of a steadfast ally that will not bend to international pressure.  Compromising on Syria, even to achieve a very favorable outcome in negotiations on the nuclear issue, would be a difficult decision for Iran.  Time is also running out for finding a solution on Syria.  It is not to the benefit of the US to wait any further to discuss Syria with Iran,.  The time is approaching when for Assad, remaining in power will become a fait accompli.  At that point, for Iran, doing anything to interfere with Assad’s power would mean initiating a new situation against its ally.  That is very unlikely.

In the July 3, 2013 greatcharlie.com post entitled, “The President-elect of Iran Says He Will Engage the West, But Don’t Think He Will Give in to It”  insights were similar to those provided afterward in the July 27th New York Times article.  The July 3rd greatcharlie.com post explained, “Rouhani, and his advisers, will not take office with a mind to acquiesce to the wishes of foreign powers. He and his colleagues view themselves first and foremost as Iranian patriots.  That greatcharlie.com post further explained that Rouhani is astute enough to know he must engage with the West on a variety of issues in a pragmatic way, but he undoubtedly recognizes the dangers in doing so.  Looking at world from Tehran, the greatcharlie.com post explained Rouhani would unlikely think that the US would ever try to do much good for an opponent.  It would therefore be unlikely that the US would be willing to do much for Iran.  That July 3rd assessment by greatcharlie.com was supported by the July 27th New York Times article which interpreted Rouhani as stating in one of his books on foreign policy that the US and the Islamic republic are in permanent conflict.  The article also went on to quote Rouhani from that same book as stating, “We [Iran] need to keep a good relation with the people; only with them we can continue to resist and confront the U.S.A.”

Assessment

A peace process needs a foundation of mutual trust upon which it can be constructed.  In spite of the many platitudes written and spoken of Rouhani in the West, there is no real trust between Washington and Tehran at the moment.  Rouhani’s desire to establish a dialogue with Washington is undoubtedly authentic, but unless it responded to seriously, he will continue to energetically support the Assad regime militarily and otherwise, and moreover, push toward activating fully operational nuclear reactors, and develop all that may come along with that.  He needs to be convinced that the US means his country and its leadership no harm.

President Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, have not been very restrained in what they have said about Iran’s role in Syria.  However, in a February 20, 2013, speech made at the University of Virginia, Kerry stated “One of America’s most incredible realities continues to be that we are a country without any permanent enemies.”  Rouhani and his newly formed foreign policy team will hopefully heed the secretary’s statement.  With any luck, they will not view it as a rebuff of Rouhani’s belief that the US and Iran are in permanent conflict, but as an expression of Kerry’s concept and intent for diplomacy under his leadership in the Obama administration.  The Obama administration has indicated, as the July 27th New York Times article expressed, “a willingness to engage in head-to-head dialogue after years of inclusive multiparty negotiations.”   Some small steps should soon be seen coming from both directions.  Confidence building measures must be developed.  However, what would most likely have a great impact on any talks, would be the direct involvement of both President Obama and President Rouhani in the process.