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Iran hedges its bets in Syria

After joining the Vienna II talks on Syria, Iran continues to hedge its bets, including beefing up the Syrian National Defense Forces, to ensure its ability to protect its interests in the country and the region.

The countries party to the statement of the International Syria Support Group, which was agreed to Nov. 14 in Vienna, seek to implement a road map to end the Syrian conflict under conditions most favorable to their own strategic interests. In the short term, the world and regional powers involved in this process are likely to maintain maximalist positions, in a bid to preserve their bargaining leverage, while fighting continues on the ground in Syria. Over time, however, this process could be crucial to ascertaining the red lines of four critical stakeholders: Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Iran. A compromise among them is paramount to any lasting political settlement in Syria.

The conclusion of the July 14 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and six world powers coupled with Moscow’s insistence that Tehran be involved in the Vienna talks mark a shift for the West. Rather than containing Iran on regional dossiers, there is now more openness to engagement. Iranian participation for the second time in the Vienna talks also indicates that its leadership does not want to be perceived as the spoiler on this new political platform. Iran’s endgame in Syria is detailed, complex and has dimensions that could change depending on how the conflict evolves. Yet, two fundamental interests will drive Tehran’s negotiating position at the talks.

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