Iran, Syria, and the nuclear question

(Developing story)

Iran is within reach of achieving an expansion of its influence through solidifying an arc of Shia states or Shia-led states reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterrean Sea. Iran, Iraq, Syria under Alawite rule, and a Lebanese state where Hezbollah is the largest party, has its own well-trained and well-armed militia and blocking or veto power over the actions of the government, represent a formidable challenge to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which have significant Shia populations subject to the pull of Iranian influence.

Despite the obvious benefit of removing chemical weapons from Syria and greatly resducing the chances they might fall into the wrong hands, the chemical weapons deal does not signal an advance for U.S. interests in the region, for it leaves al-Assad in power and increasingly dependent on Iranian economic and military support (including troops and commanders), with Hezbollah providing battle-hardened troops from Lebanon to support al-Assad militarily, particularly in decisive battles.

Proponents of a much-touted potential nuclear deal with Iran need to keep these broader considerations in mind. A nuclear deal that doesn’t address the Syrian question or that leaves Iranian nuclear weapons break-out capabilities intact, could prove to be an illusory achievement. In particular, an accord that would allow work on the Awak heavy water reactor to continue during an initial six-month “freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program is viewed by experts as allowing Iran to continue its advance toward achieving a nuclear weapons capability while sanctions are loosened.

Moreover, we must ask what made Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei suddenly become willing to settle the nuclear issue with the group of P5+1, immediately following Obama’s military back-down on Syria and what must have appeared in Tehran as lack of resolve to use military power.

For recent commentary, see:

(1) Jackson Diehl, “John Kerry’s Middle East dream world,” Washinton Post, November 10, 2013.

(2) Raniah Salloum, “Teherans Mann für Syrien: Irans gefährlichster General,” Der Spiegel, 10 November 2013 (17:34 Uhr).

Er ist Teherans Mann für heikle Missionen im Ausland: Kassim Soleimani, Chef der Eliteeinheit al-Kuds. In Afghanistan und im Irak hat er den Amerikanern bereits schwer zu schaffen gemacht. Jetzt soll er Irans Einfluss in Syrien retten.

(3) Julian Borger, “Iran nuclear programme deal in danger of unravelling; US negotiator leaves talks to reassure Israeli prime minister after France sinks bid to seal temporary agreement,” The Guardian, November 10, 2013.

(4) Julian Borger, “Last-minute rethink stalled deal on nuclear Iran; Details have emerged of how talks with Tehran in Geneva broke up at 11th hour after France and US took a robust stance,” The Guardian, November 11, 2013 (13.06 EST).

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"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.