What Does the Iran Deal Mean for Syria?

The World
How It Works
Nov. 26 2013 3:17 PM

What Does the Iran Deal Mean for Syria?

451932589
A rebel fighter points his weapon through a hole in the wall towards forces loyal to the regime on November 24, 2013 in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Photo by MEDO HALAB/AFP/Getty Images

The Iran nuclear negotiators have barely left Geneva, but already speculation is turning to the city’s next big event, the so-called “Geneva II” Syria peace talks on Jan. 22. And one serious question is what impact the Iran agreement will have on the situation in Syria.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said today that his government would be willing to attend the Syria talks. U.S, and rebel groups oppose Iran participating until it accepts an earlier communiqué that endorses political transition in the country.

Advertisement

Along with Russia, Iran has been Bashar al-Assad’s major backer throughout the conflict through both direct assistance and through the Hezbollah militant group.

Syria’s government enthusiastically welcomed the “historic agreement” over Iran’s nuclear program and there are fears that the reduced sanctions that come along with the deal will take the pressure of Iran, allowing it to continue supporting the Assad regime. In this view, the West sold out the Syrian rebels in exchange for a nuclear agreement.

On the other hand, there’s a competing view that the framework built during the talks could set the stage for future agreements between Iran and Western countries. "We hope the Iranian nuclear deal will provide impetus for a Syria deal," Abdelbaset Sieda of the Syrian National Coalition told The Associated Press. Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor skeptical of this argument, noting that in contrast to the Iran situation, there’s not much room for common ground between the two sides in Syria.

On the other hand, despite its steadfast support for Assad, Iran may actually have more of an interest in quickly finding a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict than the U.S. and its allies. American material involvement in the conflict has been relatively minimal, and support for the rebels probably isn’t breaking the bank for Saudi Arabia or Qatar either. Iran, on the other hand, according to some estimates, is spending as much as $600 to $700 million per month to keep Assad afloat during a time of economic distress while simultaneously driving its reputation in the Arab world into the ground. Syria might not exactly be “Iran’s Vietnam,” but it’s certainly more costly for Tehran than for the rebels’ backers.  

Iran is unlikely to break with Assad altogether, but if the precedent established by the nuclear talks was that Iran will cooperate in exchange for sanctions relief—and yes, we won’t know for a while just how genuine that cooperation is—it seems possible that through either public or backchannel negotiations, Iran could be talked into putting some more pressure on the Syrian government.

In one potentially positive development, Iran will be participating in a humanitarian conference focused on Syria tomorrow, reports Colum Lynch. Ahead of the conference, the Syrian government has agreed to allow the U.N. to run humanitarian aid convoys over its borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, but not Turkey.

Of course, Iranian help or no, prospects for an agreement to end the violence seem extremely limited right now. The Syrian National Coalition has been cajoled into reluctantly attending the talks in January, but as long as they’re still capable of making military gains, it doesn’t seem likely that rebel groups will accept a deal under which Assad stays in power. As for Assad, he’s planning his reelection campaign for next year and doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave.

For all its flaws, the Iran agreement was a better deal that most could have anticipated a few months ago. Syria will likely be even tougher to resolve, but here’s hoping some of the good vibes stick around in Geneva. Syria can’t wait much longer.  

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.