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Iran-authored Syria plan en route to UN

Not much can be done for Syria until major Middle East players agree to put aside their differences and form a united front against the Islamic State — and Iran has a four-step plan for the next phase.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem (3rd R) hold a meeting in Tehran August 5, 2015. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for talks with officials from allies Iran and Russia that are expected to focus on efforts to end the civil war in his country. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION

There is no way to save Syria unless Middle Eastern countries unite to battle the Islamic State (IS), an Egyptian diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

“Nothing can be done to save Syria unless the main parties make a decision to stop fighting” among themselves, said the diplomat. “It’s for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to decide to stop fighting and sit at a roundtable or else all attempts will be lost in the wind.”

The diplomat, who was visiting Beirut when Al-Monitor met him, said that in order for that to happen, “They have to feel the threat” from IS.

The main parties do seem to have felt the threat. Many nations involved in the Syrian crisis have suffered bombings or unrest or seen IS activities close enough to threaten the borders of their broader national security. Most of them seem to have started new efforts to combat IS and similar groups, while at the same time trying to find a solution for the crisis shaking Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Iran, whose role is crucial in these countries, has expressed on many occasions its readiness to help solve the issues.

A senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that his country has a four-step plan for Syria. The plan was presented to Turkey, Qatar and Egypt, then other member states of the UN, and has seen some amendments. “It’s still feasible,” the official said.

When it was presented, the proposal’s four steps were: Secure an immediate cease-fire, create a national unity government, rewrite Syria’s constitution to include the majority of Syrian ethnic groups and hold national elections under international supervision.

The Iranian official explained that the plan is under serious consideration by Syria and countries involved in the Syrian crisis and that an updated version will be sent to the UN secretary-general. The main aim is finding an exit strategy from the crisis.

“At the outset of the civil protests, Iran invited the Syrian authorities to show restraint and nonuse of military forces to control the domestic unrest.”

When the civil protests turned into a military conflict, Iran consistently emphasized that the issues should be resolved “through peaceful and political mechanisms of the United Nations.” According to the official, Iran made efforts to collaborate with the UN.

Iran sought mediation between the Syrian government and the UN to have former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and later Lakhdar Brahimi recognized as representatives of the UN special envoy to Syria, he said. Iran also participated in several mediation efforts with the UN to create humanitarian evacuation corridors. Finally, and most important, according to the official, Iran helped convince Syria to disarm its chemical arsenal.

To Iran today, the priority in the region is fighting IS. That goal has been expressed on several occasions by many Iranian officials, not to mention the YouTube message Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recorded in July during the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna. At that time Zarif said, “Our common threat today is the growing menace of violent extremism and outright barbarism. Iran was first to rise to the challenge and propose to make confronting this threat a global priority, when it launched WAVE, World Against Violence and Extremism.”

Iran believes the major powers have committed strategic mistakes in their war on terror since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. According to the senior Iranian official, “The only real way to suppress IS and other extremist groups is stopping the flow of money, weapons and jihadists to the region.”

The counter-terrorism committee set up under the UN Security Council’s auspices should take a more active role in convincing countries supporting terrorism to stop the flow of arms and fighters to the extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, he said, noting, “Combining these mechanisms with initiatives such as WAVE” presented by Iran and approved last year in the UN General Assembly, could increase the chance of restoring stability in the region.

Since the announcement of the Iran deal with the major world powers, Iran has been trying to approach the Arab world in a temperate manner. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has taken several phone calls with different regional leaders, while Zarif visited Kuwait, Iraq and Qatar.

Zarif published a notice Aug. 3 in four Arab newspapers: Egypt’s Al Shorouk, Lebanon’s As-Safir, Kuwait’s AlRai and Qatar’s Al Sharq. In the piece, headlined “Your Neighbor Before Your Home: A Moral Recommendation or a Strategic Approach,” he called for a regional dialogue to solve problems and proposed that all Muslim countries be involved in talks to end the conflicts there and in Syria, under UN supervision.

On Aug. 4, both Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and the Russian undersecretary for the Middle East visited Tehran and met with Iranian officials. The visit came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Qatar to meet with Gulf officials to discuss Iran’s nuclear deal and its situation in the region. Russia is rumored to be playing a role on both tracks to try to bridge rifts and unify efforts in the fight against IS.

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