Washington and Moscow have been recently trying to find common ground in resolving the Syrian crisis. Attempts have been made via phone calls between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, as well as through diplomatic contacts and expert consultations. The two sides have been assessing each other’s positions, limits and flexibility to make concessions.

Following these efforts, Obama decided to authorize air protection for U.S.-trained Syrian rebels fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by bombing any force that attacks them, including the Syrian army.

Washington is thereby pressing Moscow and Damascus, and showing them how far it is ready to go to achieve a transition in Syria, as it had previously been reluctant to involve U.S. military forces.

The decision to form an international coalition to hit ISIS in Iraq and Syria has caused much anxiety in Damascus and Moscow, as they expected Washington to use this opportunity to target the Syrian army.

By authorizing the protection of rebel forces, Washington is constricting the corridor for negotiations. Remarkably, this decision was announced just before the trilateral meeting in Doha of Russian, American and Saudi officials, whose agenda included Syria.  

Little hope of political transition

Moscow and Washington understand the importance of the transition of power in Syria. In Doha, they renewed their call for a managed political transition. The difference between Washington and Moscow is in the perception of when it should be done. Russia considers the highest priority now to be the fight against ISIS, in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a partner.

However, in a strategy that has not yet produced anything positive, Washington is trying to solve the Syrian internal problem and fight ISIS simultaneously. The problem is that the Syrian army is still one of the forces on the ground containing the spread of ISIS. Without the army, ISIS could spread further and take Damascus.

There is currently little hope for an adequate political transition, with more than 4 million Syrians as refugees, and disagreement over the mechanisms behind such a transition and the figures to be included.

Another problem is that Russia’s influence on the Syrian regime is highly overestimated. Assad is not an easy counterpart to press and to push, and will not leave his post in the near future. By threatening to hit his army if it attacks U.S.-trained rebels, Washington is trying to convince him otherwise.

As U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers, only 60 recruits have passed their training. Already half the $500 million budget has reportedly been spent. Washington expects to have 3,000 recruits by the end of the year, so it is easy to see how high expenses will rise. Taking into account the estimated size of ISIS – between 20,000 and 200,000 militants – the number of trained rebels is a drop in the ocean.

By authorizing the protection of rebel forces, Washington is constricting the corridor for negotiations. 

Maria Dubovikova

With air protection, they will hardly ever be involved in fighting as any battle will be prevented by massive U.S. airstrikes. Another problem is that if they are trained like the post-Saddam Iraqi army was, they will be virtually useless.

Thus announcing air protection for rebels is mostly a pretext for intervening in the Syrian crisis and sending a strong message to Damascus and Moscow. The possibility of a transition of power in Syria remains a distant prospect.


Published in Tribune
Friday, 03 April 2015 12:20

The Nude Realities behind the Nuke Talks

The Nuke talks between the P5+1 and Iran had continued to inspire a settlement when the “self-imposed” deadline seemed insignificant. After all it was an arbitrary choice only to give time to another congressional decision regarding whether to impose and implement any additional sanctions against Iran or completely or partially lift the existing ones. Moving beyond the 31st of March only showed how committed both sides have been to the cause, and showed that even though opinions differ, the objectives of both parties are the same. In fact when a tentative settlement was announced on April 2nd, the compromise between Iran and the P5+1 further inspired hope for the June 30 meeting.


The Meaning of the “Significant Progress” is not an April’s Fool

No tricking and no wasting time on the way were desired. Iran and the P5+1 continued to be hard-liners at the beginning. They did not seem to give in or give up. However, even though the talks were still far from reaching a final result, according to the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as of April 1st there was already “significant progress”.

In Lausanne all aspects of the Iranian nuke program was scrutinized. The P5+1 on behalf of the world community they represent wanted to make sure  the scope of uranium enrichment Iran would be allowed to conduct, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, proposed limits on Iran's nuclear research and development. Iran demands the right to free research and development into advanced nuclear centrifuges after an initial 10-year period covered by the potential agreement expires.

Dismantlement of sanctions is linked to the concessions Iran is willing to make, in terms of time, enrichment and the centrifuge capacity as well as the transparency of the operation locations and operations in its nuke program. Although sure about the words of its opponents, Zarif still wants to see some action to save Iran from the painful economic sanctions. Especially the real smart ones like the ban on the “swift operations”, which cripples Iran’s foreign trade and pushes both Iran and its trade partners to engage in illicit operations to by- pass this difficulty, must be the first ones to be lifted. The P5+1 promises to determine the timing and conditions for the removal of sanctions, with the condition that if Iran fails to comply with the agreement sanctions are to be reemployed without any prior notification.

What More Does Iran Need to Do to Ensure the World?

It has long been the Iran against the West when it came to ensuring the world that Iran’s nuke program does not constitute any threat to its immediate neighborhood and to the world. It has civilian objectives and was launched to reduce Iran’s its own dependence on fossil fuels in terms of energy. In a country, where there is a rich capacity to employ advanced technology, nuclear energy can be used in other areas like nuclear medicine, and promises Iran to be a regional “health hub” within a decade or two.

All sides after the he April 1st meeting of Lausanne agreed that they are only a short distance away from the finishing line. Nobody nullifies the truth that it was a shoulder to shoulder advancement to the target. They all point out that a robust deal must be reached before they conclude talks. The agreement if reached needs to be verifiable too. The P5+1, the two among them being closer to the Iranian position is sure about solidness of the promises it is likely to give. It is Iran and its conducts, intentions, operations and rhetoric they are not so very sure about. 

A White House spokesman clearly verbalized on April 1st, what is expected of Iran immediately before the P5+1 gives the right signals to their respective governments to lift the Iranian sanctions one way or another. He said “the time has come for Iran to make some decisions." Setting parameters for the issues of concern to finalize the nuke talks in June still remains easier said than done. Russia and China have always seemed to be the most supportive of Iran. However, the US, Germany, France and Great Britain had seemed to have few more deep doubts, until on April 2nd when after a sleepless night both sides reached a comprehensive agreement: Iran will close some of the centrifuges in Fardow to reduce its nuke enrichment and sanctions will be gradually lifted to return the favor.

The Difference between the Nude Reality and the Nuke Reality

Beyond the technical details, which will always remain in the core of the negotiation process as the nuke reality, there are three nude realities also expected of Iran:

  • Stop the threats against Israel in, rhetoric and preferably recognize the Israeli state in due time;
  • Stop adding fuel to fire by arming and assisting armed Shiite militia to continue the sectarian warfare in the region. Stopping proxy wars is essential to reinstitute the peace and stability in the Middle East. 
  • Even though its engagement in the proxy war against the Sunni extremism in Iraq and Syria seem acceptable and helpful by all now, Iran’s direct verbal and physical threat against the Gulf States like the Saudi Kingdom, Bahrain and the Emirates are not.

Zarif made it clear that Iran has few doubts as well about the real intentions of the P5+1 by saying on April 1st, that "the progress and success of the talks depends on the political will of the other party,” Iran and its chief negotiator are fully aware of the fact that it is not only the nuke activity of Iran, which is negotiated on the table. In fact they also know what the P5+1 is absolutely sure of what is further expected of Iran.

Despite the interim agreement reached on April 2nd, for Iran the P5+1 and the entire UN community that stands behind it still needs to respond to the following inquiry:

  • When there are a half a dozen nuclear nations in the Middle East, including the Taliban-nested Pakistan why should Iran be suspected of going nuke for military purposes? If Pakistan is taken as an honest broker, why should not be Iran?
  • Does Iran seem like a suicidal nation to take the risk of its own as well when making of a nuclear military strike against a neighboring country in the Middle East?

If the P5+1  cannot bring genuine responses to such simple questions then Zarif’s point about who holds the political will and who does not for an ultimate settlement should be highly regarded.

Conclusion: The Truth and its Consequence

The most important truth at this historical juncture is that there is a solid interim agreement between Iran and its P5+1counterpart as of the beginning of April 2015. This agreement is going to be the guiding light for the upcoming negotiations towards the end of June.

There is also a reality at this point that no matter what the west is not likely to use the military option against Iran after the April 2nd interim agreement.  Furthermore after coming so far, even if a deal is not completed by June deadlines will be disregarded to ensure to keep the communication channels open. 

Neither of the truth and reality mentioned above can deny another truth that Iran is not the only country in the Middle East, which holds the nuke power. But it remains to be the only one suspected of having the potential to use of it for military purposes. The conservatives in the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf nations and Israel do not want to accept Iran as an honest broker. On the other hand the hard-liners in Iran are also extremely wary of a final deal, if reached and do not pay much attention to how much sanctions harm the Iranian economy. The perception of danger seems stronger than the danger itself. This is another nude rather than the nuke reality. Therefore, in the process Iran would continue to acknowledge the world is that its nuclear program has purely peaceful purposes, mostly power generation, and it continues to demand the U.S., EU, and UN to lift sanctions swiftly, even if it is done in a gradual manner.

In the process, negotiations are likely to produce ultimately fruitful consequences if:

  • Iran stops threatening Israel, possibly recognize it, and stop assisting militia against the Gulf countries.
  • It continues to engage struggle against the Sunni extremism in Syria and Iraq, without making further claims in the Iraqi territory and the Iraqi economy.

There is also the naked truth that the P5+1 on behalf of the UN community under no condition would remove sanctions. The rule for reemploying them if Tehran fails comply with the deal is also set.

There is probably going to be another strongly emphasized reality or the demand of Iran from the P5+1 and the UN community, which has not been openly discussed in public, and that is unless the Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries were also reprimanded for supporting Sunni extremism, it would be impossible to stop proxy wars and reinstitute peace and stability in the Middle East. 

Published in Tribune


We still believe that there is no purely military solution to the situation in Yemen.  And we, along with the GCC ministers whom the Secretary spoke to today, support political negotiations as the best way to resolve the crisis.  However, we also understand the Saudis’ concerns, especially given the Houthis’ failure to engage meaningfully in the political dialogue process.  And so in that regard, we understand and we support the action that they’ve taken.

– Jeff Rathke, the US State Department Spokesman

Interference by foreign militaries is very dangerous and deepens the crisis. 

– Hassan Rouhani, Iranian President

The United Nations continued to be engaged with the parties in a manner that neither gave legitimacy to those who used force to disrupt the political process nor diminished the legitimacy of the president and Government. 

– Jamal Benomar, special adviser of the UN Secretary General on Yemen.

The Saudi-led air strikes should stop immediately and it is against Yemen's sovereignty.<...> We will make all efforts to control crisis in Yemen.

– Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister.

The Saudis cannot accept the idea of an Iranian-backed regime in control of Yemen, which is why they felt compelled to intervene the way they have.

– Philip Hammond, British Foreign Minister.

They might lead to some kind of confrontation between Iran and the Gulf. <...> Secondly, Yemen [could] be the second Syria in the region and it may even be divided again into west Yemen, dominated by the Shia population, and east Yemen, dominated by the Sunni. This is the worst scenario that could happen in the region. <...> Air strikes cannot determine the future of the war,” he said. “What would be decisive is the engagement of ground forces which are not at the scene yet. Air strikes can only harm the civilian population but not the Houthi militants who are applying asymmetric war tactics such as guerrilla warfare.

 Dr Firuz Yasamis, director of diplomacy at the American University of the Emirates


The Arab League Summit

He speaks about the problems in the Middle East as though Russia is not influencing these problems. <...> They speak about tragedies in Syria while they are an essential part of the tragedies befalling the Syrian people, by arming the Syrian regime above and beyond what it needs to fight its own people. <...> I hope that the Russian president corrects this so that the Arab world's relations with Russia can be at their best level. 

Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister in response to the Vladimir Putin's letter addressed to the participants of the Arab League Summit

I call for the continuation of Operation Decisive Storm until this gang [the Houthis] announces its surrender, exits all occupied territories in the provinces, leaves state institutions and military camps," Hadi said.

– Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi

This nation [Yemen], in its darkest hour, had never been faced a challenge to its existence and a threat to its identity like the one it's facing now. <...> This threatens our national security and [we] cannot ignore its consequences for the Arab identity. 

– Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

I call upon everyone to end military operations and stop the killing. <...>I call on everyone to resort to reason and initiate a ceasefire. I ask our sons not to be excited and to stop all violence in all provinces.

– Yemen's former-President Ali Abdullah Saleh 

I say to those who oppose or delay the arming of the Libyan army that you are giving an opportunity to Daesh terrorists to flourish in Libya and to spread beyond it.

– Aqila Saleh, President of Libya's internationally-recognised parliament.

I want to congratulate the Arabs in Israel, who united for the first time and received 13 seats. <...> This is a positive and important development which we support, despite the fact that we do not intervene in Israeli elections.

– Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority

Russia will continue contributing to the attainment of this goal [Palestine’s independence], working through bilateral channels and through multilateral channels, including in the ‘Quartet’ of international mediators.

– Vladimir Putin, Russian President (in his address to the participants of the 26th Annual Summit of the Arab League)


Six-party talks on the Iranian nuclear programme.

All unjust sanctions against the Iranian nation should be lifted. Lifting all sanctions is the main issue that can help us reach the final solution.

– Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (asserting that any nuclear deal must end in lifting sanctions). 

Unfortunately, we are seeing that the tragedy that is happening in this country [Yemen] is having an impact on the atmosphere of the negotiations.<...> We hope that the situation in Yemen will not bring about a change in the position of certain participants.

– Sergei Ryabkov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister  

Published in Weeks-in-Quotes
Friday, 20 March 2015 12:54

Netanyahu's Victory: The masks are down.

Talking about the Israeli elections, the results and its meaning for the Peace Process, let start first with figures. The result is that Netanyahu got 57 seats all together with the right and religious parties’ bloc, and the left-center bloc parties got 53. In the middle there is a centrist party – Kulanu which is quiet moderate according to their declarations made before the elections, got 10 seats. But since this party descent from Likud, the assumption here is that Netanyahu with his 57 seats in the Parliament can form a coalition together with it – so they’ll form the coalition uniting 67 members of Parliament. In the previous elections the right religious bloc all-together had 61 seats. And actually what happened in the current elections is that the right wing parties and the religious forces have lost 3 seats in the Parliament, as Netanyahu took the seats from the ultra-orthodox parties, from the right-radical parties, and became bigger (30 seats), than the second party in the Parliament, which is the Zionist Camp (the former Labor party with 24). And so he gains the right to be the first to form the coalition. So, from my point of view, he made a big victory, but this victory was due to his expanse on the right wing radical parties. And mostly he has done it in the last three days before the elections, because most of the polls predicted him gaining 20-21 sits in the Parliament and he gained 30. So it was a big failure for the pollsters and for the media in Israel, because all of them had been assuming, that the Labor party and the Zionist Camp would win the elections and it appeared to be a disinformation. The real change was between parties but not between the two blocs of the political arena.   

There were also two very bad declarations of Netanyahu, as he stepped out of the Two-State solution and he incited the Arab population in Israel. And by this kind of announcement he gained the popularity among those who are ultra-right and ultra-orthodox. Many voters from the radical nationalist party ‘The Jewish home’, ruled by Nafrali Bennet moved to Netanyahu’s camp. Bennet had 12 seats in the Parliament previously. Now he has only 8. And all the seats he lost, he lost because of Netanyahu’s announcement that he is not in favor of the two-State solution anymore. That was a game changer in the last three days before the elections. 

We should understand also, that there is a big discord inside Israel, inside the Jewish population. We can even say that there are two states in Israel, as the society is divided to 2 blocs. One part of the Israeli society supports the Zionist Camp and the Labor party,’Yesh Atid’ party and ‘Meretz’.It is characterized by a very high gross national product, liberal values of cooperation with the Arab minority, diplomatic moderation, pragmatic security viewpoint. The other bloc is formed by ‘Likud’ party, The ‘Jewish home’, The Ultra-religious parties and Liberman party ‘Israel Beitenu’ . Most of that part is haunted by archaic fears it is prickly, isolationist and conservative and suspicious of the Arab neighbors .with small-income salaries. And however, they suffered a lot from the last years of Netanyahu’s internal social and economic policy, they’ve voted for him.

The result is that it is easier for Netanyahu to form a coalition, than for Labor Party and the Zionist Camp headed by Isaac Herzog.

As far as the future of the Peace Process is concerned, it should be reminded that in the end of the month the gathering of the Arab League will take place in Egypt. And I think that the Arab League will stay with the Arab Peace Initiative declaration. And I think, there is a possibility that Netanyahu would be set to say that he is for collaboration with moderate Arab states, as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan and Egypt. He understand that main topic that interest Arab leaders is the fight against ISIS and stemming the expansion of Iran. The problem is that he wants to bring this ME collaboration without the Palestinians and in this case there will be no kind of diplomatic solution, and this would even paralyze the negotiations on the matter. Personally, as well as my organization, NISPED-AJEEC and the Peace camp in Israel, we strongly support the API and we see it as a right base for negotiation for peace together with the Palestinians. But the future for us, at least the nearest future, looks very gloomy. I must admit we don’t see any advancement in the Peace Process. One good thing is that the masks of Netanyahu and his government supporting the Peace Process and declaring the Two-State Solution do not exist anymore.

One good thing is that the masks of Netanyahu and his government supporting the Peace Process and declaring the Two-State Solution do not exist anymore.

–Mully Dor

The first announcement of the US administration was saying «Ok. So everything is clear now».

That means that the US is not going to stop the Palestinians, with their attempts to settle the conflict through the UN institutions. And this would probably have good consequences for the situation, compared to what we witnessed in the past, when the US had been automatically supporting everything Israel had been doing. And it was not helping Israel at all. I must admit that I didn’t like the way Obama was reacting to the Netanyahu’s speech to the Congress. He publicly hazed the president and got home safe and sound without paying any prize. The people of Israel saw no act of the US administration when Netanyahu behave like this and they understood that he defeated Obama. It was a big mistake of Obama.

I don’t believe that Netanyahu will be in practice more flexible on the two-state solution after the elections. In the past Netanyahu had been speaking more politely but had no intention to build it. He has been opposing this idea from the first minute. He had been declaring that he supports the conflict settlement on the basis of the two state solution on the international arena, while inside the country, for the home audience, he had been saying, that he don’t believe in it.

But of course it was a populist move to gain votes, but the question is what he is going to do after the elections. There is an important question if he is willing to enter the real negotiations on the two state solution or no. The Kerry initiative has failed, as Netanyahu didn’t want to draw the lines of the borders. He just wanted to stay in power. He is not willing to step into real negotiations and find a solution. He is a Mr. Security, declaring that he will secure the Israelis against Iran, against ISIS, against the Palestinians not believing in the two-state solution.

There is a big question whether this strategy and this policy can exist in the Middle East and in the modern world now. I don’t believe in this. But people actually vote for this policy. This policy will be of becoming isolated, conservative, to prefer any religious values over the democratic and liberal ones, to be a state that is suspicious of its neighbors. 

Published in Commentaries

"It is an horror, calculated, planned, a political operation, that beyond the terrorist goals, is intended to bring down the Tunisian government and undermine Tunisia's nascent democracy!". This is what the researcher Mustapha Tlili, founder and director of the NYU Center for Dialogues: Islamic World - the United States - the West, says. "The seriousness is enormous”, he adds. “It requires a response corresponding to the level of events, a strong political response. Fists of all, its about to strengthen and modernize the security mechanisms without shedding to the opposite vice, that is to say, to give up democratic principles. We need to show that terrorism has failed in its political goal." 

Tlili calls for the cohesion of all the political classes "provided that there is no shade of doubt in a total rejection of Islamic or any other forms of terrorism". "We must articulate clearly”, he said, “without the vague declarations, as has been observed during the last four years." With hope, he added: "Yes, we mourn the dead, we mourn the guests of Tunisia, it is a tragedy, but at the end of the tunnel, there is light: the Tunisian democracy! "

What should be done? "Modern and effective intelligence service that works to infiltrate these terrorist groups and go till the end, as modern countries do, should  be created," Mustapha Tlili advocates.

What should the international community do? "Let's start with the friends of Tunisia, and the United States at their head, he said. We should appeal to President Obama who has just affirmed the support of Tunisia by the United States in its national security strategy and we should tell him that it is time, now more than ever, that this support is the most valuable for the country. First of all it concerns the benefits for Tunisia from exchanging information on terrorism and we all know how US capabilities in this area are enormous. "

If Tunisia fails in its fight against terrorism and if it fails its democratic experience, it's the whole West that will fail.

"Secondly,” continues Tlili “we should strengthen our security cooperation. The means Tunisia should be given, not sold the means it does not have, namely, the technology and equipment. If Tunisia fails in its fight against terrorism and if it fails its democratic experience, it's the whole West that will fail. "

"There is no tranquility today", says Mustapha Tlili. "It is the same case as the tragedy in France, when the Charlie Hebdo editorial board was decimated. It should arouse the same solidarity. The same fraternity must be clearly expressed to honour the memory of all victims of Bardo. "


The original of the publication is available here.

Published in Commentaries

Interview is available in Russian (click here).

Maria Dubovikova: The first question I would like to ask, following the recent changes on the battlefield of the everlasting conflic – what are the prospects of the Arab-Israeli conflict now? Are there still chances for a peace settlement in the short or maybe mid-term perspective? And why?

Vitaly Naumkin: I think there are no chances for a peace settlement in the short terms. It is a difficult confrontation, which will occasionally inflame and deescalate. Explosions will follow the pauses, and it may last long enough, maybe for several years. I do not see any chances for a resolution even in mid-term perspective. Why? First of all because there is no intention from the Israeli part to stop the occupation. It goes on. And the settlement is impossible without the end of occupation. Some dialog is possible – the parties will be forced to have it. Some experts believe that the reconcilement can be achieved only through an imposed decision. I do not much agree with such scenario. First of all, because there is no accord within the international community, among the global players. Let’s take,the US–Russia relations as an example. Is it possible to speak about agreement if the Americans still impose pressure on all the Middle-Eastern countries to make them stop the cooperation and the development of ties with Russia, trying to talk them into joining the sanction war, that is waged against Russia by the US, EU, and some other countries – Australia, Canada, etc.? Secondly, a decision may be imposed only on the parties, that are dependent much on the external players and obliged to listen to them. And even in such case it is not always possible. Israel has shown that it is not eager to listen even its closest partners, as it is sure that they will not abandon the strategic union with it and will continue to support it. And if Israel is criticized everywhere, even in the US, and this criticism is growing due to the atrocities against civilian population in Gaza, this will not make the US threaten Israel with any sanctions. There is nothing to talk about without sanctions. In this sense Israel is a quite sustainable state.

Thirdly, the positions of the two parties are so irreconcilable, that it is unlikely that something can be imposed on them now. And if we examine the consequences of the events in Gaza from the Arab angle, we will see that HAMAS positions are not undermined, but they have strengthened instead, despite they receive support in the region only from Qatar and Turkey. The sympathies towards HAMAS are very high among the population of the West Bank, which is however controlled by Fatah. Our Palestinian friends give such an assessment. HAMAS believes that it was victorious in this battle. Israel had to agree to cooperate with the coalition government. It is a technical, not a party one but is created on the basis of agreement between HAMAS and Fatah. At the beginning Israel refused to conduct dialogue with HAMAS, but agreed afterwards. Mutual concessions made a fragile ceasefire agreement possible.  

But HAMAS has not managed to make Israel satisfy the demands presented in the beginning of the conflict – to lift the blockade and free Palestinian convicts. Israel, in its turn has suffered an important reputation loss. There was no choice as annihilating more than two thousand people including 400 children and trying to continue to present it as a counterterrorism is impossible. They wave no opportunities to calm the anger of the Palestinians. Some hot-heads in Israel say that they need to reoccupy Gaza, deploy troops there. It is a new occupation and it will lead to the further radicalization. It will cause violence, guerilla and subversive warfare and this will not have an end. There will be no security and that is why Israel has to retreat and free the territories. Israel says it has to provide its own security. Of course it has, but only through a settlement including the interests of all the parties.

Many of the projects of reconciliation proposed today include an idea of demilitarization of Gaza and establishment of Mahmud Abbas’s administration control there. Mahmud Abbas can not follow such decision as the Palestinians are using the concept of common sovereignty over the whole Palestine, which includes the West Bank, Gaza and Eastern Jerusalem – all three inseparable parts of Arab Palestine. Why the Palestinian authorities have to agree to demilitarize one part, not knowing what to do with the others? Demilitarization is only possible for the whole state, which should be created on these three territories according to the resolutions of the Security Council of UN. But Israel refuses to recognize East Jerusalem as a capital of Palestinian state as it considers it as an eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state. The Palestinian leaders also can not agree to demilitarize Gaza as they will be just smashed by their own population. The reputation of Abbas is already shaky and if he makes further unilateral concession, he will be just branded as a traitor and he will have difficult times. Moreover, there is no accord among the Palestinians. However, meanwhile Mahmud Abbas and Khaled Mashal manage to interact productively. It is difficult to say whether this cooperation will be long term or not. All the more so, there are parties of realists and radicals within HAMAS. I have often heard from the Palestinian public figures, that they could agree to the demilitarization in conditions of the international guarantees for the security and deployment of the international forces.

I will repeat, that such state should include all three parts of Arab Palestine – West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. May be, it is possible to fantasize over the granting this city a special status, giving the access to it to the representatives of all the Abrahamic confessions. It is possible to agree on that. There are some other variants of compromise solutions but Palestinians can give up Jerusalem on no conditions, let alone they have support of international community and the international law. And the Arab and the whole Islamic world will not support such “renegade”. This is out of question. A compromise should be found.


M.D.: You have mentioned the US pressure on the Arab countries to make them join sanctions against Russia. And it seems that mostly all their attempts are in vain. Is the Arab world interested in cooperation with Russia? Or the West is still more attractive partner for it?

V.N.: Unfortunately, there is no unity in the Arab world, it is atomized. There are pro-Western elites in the Arab countries, which at best do not care what policy towards Russia will their governments conduct. These elites will act only according to the US and their own interests. There are other elites, which are at least interested in diversification of their states external policy, and Russia is much needed here in all the spheres: political, economic, and military, just as a counterbalance for the Americans. This is the most humble estimation. Analyzing further, we will find some core elements in cooperation with Russia, which cannot be provided by anyone else today. Let’s take for example Egypt. Who can really provide weapons today if these weapons are not supplied by the US? Russia. But in this respect Egypt does not abandon the cooperation with the US and is not going to do so. There are some differences between Cairo and Washington and As-Sisi is willing to develop relations with Moscow. By the way, Egypt always had such tendency to work with both parties, even during the Cold war era, Nasser’s Egypt was considered a “client” of the USSR. President As-Sisi acts very reasonably; it is just common for Egypt. It is a big country with important geopolitical interests, international weight.

Saudi Arabia also tries to act independently. And it is also inclined to develop relations with Russia on many directions. But there are states that are attached to the US and depend in them in their own security. The Western countries limit theirmilitary cooperation and they are unable to quit this orbit. This also concerns some countries that had some contracts with Russia in this sphere and that are interested in development of the cooperation, say, the UAE. They cannot work on this direction without the US approval and they do not need this. Maybe such need will emerge due to the grave deterioration of the situation in the Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi directions.

Hardly anyone will dare to predict now how the situation in Iraq and over it will develop. What will be the further actions of ISIS? How will the de-facto third air war, launched by the Americans in the North of Iraq, finish? Will they bring it on the Syrian airspace and what could be the consequences in such case?

Alas, there are more questions than the answers. But these questions will also determine how the Arab countries will cooperate with Russia. No doubt, that nobody, including the US, will be able to isolate Russia in the Middle East.  And even their closest ally – Israel is going to launch a broad cooperation with Russia. This country understands our open, fair and reasonable enough position during the last crisis, when we criticized the actions of Israel in Gaza, but showed the willingness to cooperate with them and highly appreciated the fact, that Israel had not supported the anti-Russian sanctions.

Israel did not take part in the voting on the anti-Russian resolution in the UN General Assembly in March concerning the inclusion on Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia. And Netanyahu does not conceal that during the last crisis he contacted President Putin on the phone several times (Israeli establishment does not like to have secrets) – this does show something.

M.D.: As for ISIS – it’s quiet evident that the crisis is extremely dangerous for the Middle East and for the whole international community as well. How do you think, do the Western powers, the Middle Eastern ones have a chance to stop the spreading of ISIS and to annihilate it? And wil the ongoing American operation on the North of Iraq be effective, or will they finally have to deploy their troops on Iraqi land once again?

V.N.: I would say it is impossible to defeat a movement that has deep mass and religious roots by bombardments. How is it possible to precisely identify the targets and then eliminate exactly those radicals by airstrikes? The Americans do have smart bombs, but they are not so smart to return back if the target is invalid. “It seems, that is not those guys!” That means there will be civilian casualties, as always, which cause a rise of anti-Americanism everywhere. The ISIS member may be untouched, but the one who fights against him may catch a packet and go to long rest. These are unforeseen consequences of airstrikes.

But in the modern warfare the air forces remain the key element in any combat activities. That is why the absence of planes in ISIS is their weak point. It is also important that this theater of operations does not provide much cover. So, generally it is easy to destroy large groups of vehicles and personnel by aviation – there is no cover for them. David Goldman from the “Middle Eastern Forum” even believes that the capabilities of ISIS are “overestimated” and reminds that the insurgents from this organization “operate on the terrain where the aerial reconnaissance may detect any stray cat”. That is why now the ISIS is hunting aircrafts – planes, helicopters, drones, and attempts to capture airfields in Iraq and Syria. They hunt pilots. The absence of aviation is partially compensated by the modern AA systems captured in Syria, if they will not be destroyed by the US air force, mainly by UAVs.

The Iraqi armed forces have not had aviation for long time – the West was afraid to give it to them, thus not numerous flying personnel has lost qualification. The dissolution of all the military units of Saddam Hussein’s state contributed to this issue. It was one of the gravest mistakes made by the US trying to make a new state in Iraq. And now the ex-officers of the old army fight on the ISIS side.

Russia has just recently provided airplanes to Iraq, but the pilots have still to do some training to operate them efficiently. There are countries having powerful air forces among Iraq’s neighbors.  Saudi Arabia has more than 300 F-15, 75 “Typhoons” and more than 80 “Apache” attack helicopters. Jordan is armed with 60 F-16 and 25 “Cobra” attack helicopters. On the one hand if these countries engaged in combat, I am sure, they would demolish this ISIS. And they would not much care about the collateral damage. But on the other hand, such actions could cause hatred not only towards the Americans (who are already hated enough) but also against these regimes, which are already considered pro-Western. Moreover, my colleagues from these countries, including Saudi Arabia, mention that there are great sympathies towards ISIS among the population. And these sympathies are spread not only among the common people, religious activists, social outcasts, but also among the military. That is why in personal discussions they are voicing concerns, that if such war begins, no one knows on which side will fight several dozens of thousands Saudi Arabians, which are supposed to be engaged in combat. And let’s not forget about such crucial mobilization motivators for religious extremism like Israeli occupation, American invasion, unfinished campaign in Afghanistan (and it is unclear what will happen to this country in future), severe civilian war in Syria, which absorbs Jihadists-legionnaires from all over the world to fight the secular regime.

The US examine the possibility to launch strikes on ISIS on the Syrian territory, a part of which is controlled by the extremists, and where they are gaining sufficient military success – regions of Rakka, Deir az-Zora, Aleppo. However Washington rules out any cooperation or coordination of actions with Bashar al-Assad government – a natural ally of those who fight Jihadists from ISIS, connected with Al-Kaeda by a group “an-Nusra” and other groups. If these strikes will hit targets on the Syrian soil without Damask consent, even if these targets are the regions of concentration of the ISIS troops and weaponry, the Syrian government will consider such strikes a violation of its sovereignty. It seems nice, that the ISIS would be bombed out, but who knows what these Americans can do – the highest-ranking officials of the country, including Obama, are repeating “Assad should leave” like a mantra. What if they decide to bomb also (or event instead) the government forces? By the way, I think that Russia will be on Damask side, though we are also very willing to be done with the ISIS.

In Syria there is in fact a confrontation between the government forces and thuggish Jihadists. And where is a moderate, according to the Western classification, opposition? Where is the Syrian Free Army? It is impossible to see it. However, a positive tendency of forming coalition of all those fighting against the ISIS is falling apart. Today, as far as I know, even the Kurdish Working Party and the organizations connected to it, which have not collaborated with Arabs yet, are fighting the ISIS in cooperation with some moderate Islamists. ISIS threatens all neighboring countries – mainly Jordan, which has its own Islamist extremists, Lebanon, which has got a subdivision of ISIS with an unknown before Amir al-Urdunni. The head of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi threatens to reach Kuwait, which he is going to punish for the cooperation with the US.

The situation is extremely dangerous. To sum up, the local regimes should not expect to defeat the ISIS by the US smart bombs and missiles. And nobody wants to fight on the ground – not the Americans, not even these regimes themselves, a part of them even refuses to list ISIS as a terrorist organization. It is better not to risk, who knows, how the situation will turn? Moreover, the defeat of ISIS would cause a reverse reaction as a sympathy and input of forces to cruel Jihadists who speculate in the feelings of Muslims. Meanwhile, the Iraqi army facing severe difficulties does not show its best. And the potential of Kurdish armed units “Peshmerga” was also overestimated. It was on thing to conduct guerilla warfare against Iraqi security forces in their mountains during Saddam Hussein rule. But fighting in open combats with reckless, wildly cruel and heavily armed ISIS fighters – it is absolutely another type of warfare. My Iraqi friends tell me that there are also ISIS allies among the Kurds, however they are not numerous. Kurds are not very religious in general.  And the massacres against non-Muslim minorities on the North of Iraq – Ezids, Shabakh, Christians, were aimed to threaten all the population of the region. The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan – Erbil does not manage to deal with the huge mass of refugees.

I think that Peshmerga, which are still able to make a barrage against the murderers from the ISIS with the coordination with the Iraqi army and the US Air support, will not go further than their territories. They will not go to fight in the South of Iraq.  It is a theater for the Iraqi army and the militia of Shia who live there.  A so-called Golden division of Iraq – an elite unit consisting mainly of Shia, and destined mainly to defend Shia shrines in Kerbel, Nejef and some other places, has a good combat reputation.

Iran has recently declared that it has sent its advisors to Iraqi Kuristan. Prior to that the Iranian advisors were only in the Iraqi army and in the security forces. Will the Americans and their allies cooperate with Iranians? Will the West be able to overcome the anti-Iranian syndrome having the common interests with Iran to oppose the ISIS and al-Qaeda? It seems, that again, there are more questions than answers. But in general the battle will be long and bloody.


M.D.:And the Libyan crisis?

V.N.: Also seriously and for long!


M.D.: With no any chance?

What chances? Libya seems to have few people and much oil – make a deal! It is possible to divide power and resources. Maybe someone in the region will not like it, but I will dare to say: the Arab League should think about creating a peacekeeping force (under the support of the UN) to make Libyans stop the internal conflict, not to allow the creation of an “Islamic state” on its territory, how it happened in Iraq. The countries like Egypt, Algeria, concerned about such threat could have played an extremely important role in realization of a such plan. Let’s recall how the Syrian troops have once entered Lebanon and stopped the civil war there. But the crisis should be settled by the Arabs only and not by a new Western intervention.

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Les relations entre l’Iran et les Etats-Unis, si elles remontenthistoriquement à 1856, ne sont devenues véritablement actives qu’en 1943. Si les rapports avec le Shah sont bons, le renversement de Mossadegh en 1953 organisé par la CIA ternit leur image. La mise en place en 1979 de la République islamique s’organise sur fond de forte hostilité, les Etats-Unis étant qualifiés par l’ayatollah Khomeiny de Grand Satan. L’assaut donné à l’ambassade américaine à Téhéran par des « étudiants » et la détention en otages de 52 diplomates pendant 444 jours sont vécus comme une humiliation par l’opinion publique américaine. Les conditions d’installation au pouvoir, comme la volonté d’exporter la révolution et se mettre à la tête du « Front du refus », conduisent les Etats-Unis à développer une politique mêlant containment et sanctions, non sans parfois certaines incohérences. Le développement, à partir de 2005, d’un programme nucléaire suspecté d’avoir une finalité militaire renforce les Etats-Unis dans leur volonté de durcir leur position. Cependant quelques occasions de réconciliation sont manquées. L’élection de Rohani apporte une nouvelle donne et une opportunité pour régler les contentieux en cours, notamment le nucléaire. L’accord intérimaire du 24 novembre 2013 confirme cette évolution, même s’il ne règle aucun problème de fond. Mais une dynamique est créée. S’achemine-t-on vers une normalisation des relations, voire un Grand bargain ? Il existe certes une volonté politique aussi bien du côté d’Obama que de Rohani. Mais des obstacles demeurent : la défiance reste grande entre les deux pays ; la marge de manœuvre est étroite en termes de politique intérieure ; la négociation nucléaire qui s’ouvre est complexe et majeure en termes d’enjeu pour les deux parties ; de nombreux points de crispation existent, notamment l’appui donné par l’Iran au Hezbollah. En toute hypothèse un Grand bargain ne peut être que le fruit de négociations longues et laborieuses qui peut déboucher sur un nouvel équilibre des forces au Moyen-Orient.

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The article was published by Al Monitor 

It seems that the tendency toward a needless exacerbation of US-Russian relations, which started with the crisis in Ukraine, has now begun to spread to the Near East as well. This time the area of confrontation has become Syria. The Russian-US “honeymoon,” more precisely the time allotted for eliminating the Syrian chemical arsenal, will soon be over and all signs indicate that the plan will be fulfilled as agreed. But proposed Geneva III talks have clearly lost traction. Fierce fighting among the members of the Syrian opposition has severely hurt their potential and the chances of even a minimal agreement between those who are generally considered to be the moderate opposition (although the assessments of Moscow and Washington differ here in some respects). According to Yezid Sayigh, “The National Coalition’s reprieve during the Geneva talks also momentarily masked the extent of its incapacitation by renewed Saudi-Qatari competition for influence over the Syrian opposition.” Meanwhile, the designation by Riyadh of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization dealt a serious blow to this organization’s standing in Syria, where it plays a major role in both the National Coalition and the Syrian National Council, that is to say, the very organizations that most of the world community regards as moderate.


Leaders of the diverse organizations forming the Syrian opposition have long asked the West for supply of modern antitank and anti-aircraft weapons to turn the tide in the war against President Bashar al-Assad. In the course of a series of recent meetings in Moscow with officials (such as Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov), experts and journalists, a group of Syrian oppositionists presented their “charter for democratic reform,” which in one way or another came down to discussing the need to arm the rebel groups with modern weapons to resolve the crisis. Moscow, as is known, is against this method of resolving the crisis. For the time being, Western governments, above all the United States, have withstood intensive lobbying by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to arm the rebels with such dangerous weapons systems, primarily out of fear that the arms may end up in the wrong hands. The experience of Afghanistan — where the mujahedeen turned the weapons they received against the very people who had given them — had not been forgotten.

Recently, however, Washington has changed its position. On April 18, The Wall Street Journal (in an article by Ellen Knickmeyer, Maria Abi-Habib and Adam Entous) confirmed previous reports by Agence France-Presse that “the US and Saudi Arabia have supplied Syrian rebel groups with a small number of advanced American antitank missiles.” The Russian media (for example, ITAR-Tass on April 20) states that more than 20 BGM-21 TOW (wire-guided) portable antitank systems had been sent in early March through Turkey and Jordan to Syria to the opposition group Harakat Hazm (part of the Free Syrian Army), and that these fighters have already undergone training in the use of such weapons. RIA Novosti, citing the fact that these deliveries are described as a “pilot project,” posits that in the future the supply of the state-of-the-art modern weapons to the rebels will be expanded. Most likely, the next step in the weapons deliveries will be surface-to-air missiles.

This information came as no surprise to Moscow, which as Russian sources say, was already aware of deliveries of antitank weaponry. According to them, an expansion of deliveries was discussed during President Barack Obama's visit to Riyadh on March 28. At the same time, a senior administration official at the press briefing on the president’s bilateral meeting with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz said that “our approach on that issue hasn’t changed” and confirmed “concerns about certain types of weapons systems that could be part of a proliferation that would not serve our interest.” 

Moscow analysts believe that the following circumstances played a role in changing the course of the US administration.

First of these is the worsening in Russian-US relations due to the reunification of Russia and Crimea, alongside the strengthened role of neoconservative elements in the Washington bureaucracy, who are anxious to spite Russia wherever they can, and to hinder normalization of US-Iranian relations. These are the very same people who worked behind the scenes during the coup in Kiev. As Robert Merry recently wrote, referring to William Pfaff, Victoria Nuland “even identified the man who should replace Yanukovych after his ouster,” and “the United States spent some $5 billion in fostering 'democratic institutions' in Ukraine designed to nudge the country away from Russian sway.” He said that only “saner heads would have understood how dangerous this kind of activity can be.”

Second is America’s desire to support its Saudi partners, whose Syrian policy has evoked a serious internal crisis in the Saudi Arabian monarchy, the leaders of which blame the United States for all of their problems.

Third is the fear that the antigovernment forces in Syria could fall, which would turn the mantra of “Assad must go” into merely wishful thinking.

Most Russian experts believe that the supply of modern arms to the Syrian rebels:

  • ¥Will not guarantee victory for the detachments that receive them; moreover, the suppliers will hardly be able to ensure that these weapons will not be seized by competing groups of fighters, including international terrorists.
  • ¥Will exacerbate the rivalry between the rebel groups, rather than promote their unification.
  • ¥Will impel government forces and their supporters to take harsher actions and will intensify the armed confrontation, costing even more civilian lives.
  • ¥Will increase the flow of refugees.
  • ¥Will force the pro-Damascus regional powers to mobilize even more personnel and material resources to fight the rebels.
  • ¥Will harm international cooperative efforts at finding a political-diplomatic solution to the problem.

Unsurprisingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has stated that the supply of modern effective antitank weaponry to the fragmented antigovernment forces will seriously destabilize the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic and will not promote a political-diplomatic resolution of the conflict. Does this mean that the United States and Russia have entered a new round of political confrontation, only this time not in Ukraine, but in the Near East?



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After three years of bloody war in Syria, Washingtonclosed the Syrian embassy, as Assad’s regime “has no legitimacy” and Washington considers the Syrian embassy in the U.S. an insult. The U.S. then freezes the diplomatic relations with Syria. This breaking news hits the headlines of the world’s news agencies. But is this news really breaking, or just long overdue?

The Syrian conflict, as it was mentioned, started three years ago and the death toll already amounts to more than 140,000 people, while some argue that the real number remains unknown. We could endlessly discuss who is to blame for this bloodshed as there is not “right” answer, a common trend of all civil wars.

However, the current state of play is that the Syrian opposition is absolutely fragmented; that Islamists and jihadists from abroad fight on the side of the Free Syrian Army, that Syrian territory has been completely invaded by numerous brigades of the al-Qaeda backed terrorist groups that represent a threat to regional and world stability. In this case, other questions over the conflict should be raised - not who is to blame, but how to stop it.

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Sunday, 26 January 2014 18:41

Russia a winner in improved US-Iran ties

The recent rapprochement between Iran and the United States, regardless of how fragile it is, has driven a number of analysts and politicians in Russia and abroad to speculate about the possible negative consequences for Russia’s relations with Iran of Tehran’s “pivot to America.” I find such speculation and fear of the possible decline of Iran-Russia ties baseless. Russia is interested in the normalization of the Iran-US relationship, and can clearly benefit from it.

First from the Russian perspective, Moscow is no less interested than the West in clearing up suspicions about the Iranian nuclear program, which is the main condition for normalization, and excluding the possibility of Iran's nuclear weaponization. Second, the lifting of sanctions would allow Russian companies access to the Iranian market. The Russian companies believe that they can compete with others successfully, particularly in the spheres where they have already acquired expertise and where they are able to offer better projects on better conditions. The geographical proximity of Russia and Iran can also ease the development of new projects, including the possible construction of new nuclear plants.

There was a leak from well-informed circles to the Russian media that the Iranians were negotiating with the Russian company Atomstroyexport on the construction of two new units in the Bushehr plant that would produce 1,000 megawatts each. Third, it will remove all barriers to Russian-Iranian military and technical cooperation (let us remember in this regard the failed delivery of the C-300 missile systems, met with outrage by Tehran). Fourth, as Moscow sees it, even in the case of full normalization with the West, Tehran will need diversification and counterbalances. Constructive diplomatic cooperation between Russia and Iran on the Syrian crisis and Russia’s recognition of Tehran’s regional role would support this.

During my visit to Tehran, just before Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to Russia, almost all my interlocutors, including several high-level officials, asserted that President Hassan Rouhani is determined to foster ties with Russia exactly now, when he is feeling an urgent need for that. During Zarif’s visit, a lot of issues were discussed, including a trade deal between Russia and Iran for the purchase of up to 500 barrels per day of crude Iranian oil in exchange of Russian goods worth of $18 billion annually.

The idea of this oil-for-goods deal was proposed for the first time to President Vladimir Putin by Rouhani in Bishkek, during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in September 2013. This was, the Iranian diplomats said, followed up by them in the course of two telephone conversations, as well as during Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Tehran Dec. 13, 2013. By the way, the Iranian side sees in Putin’s two calls to Rouhani a sign of a real breakthrough in Moscow’s approach toward cooperation with Iran at a time when the level of trade and economic exchanges dropped last year to an extremely low level of less that $2 billion. Iranians remember that during his visit to Tehran, Lavrov said that the volume of trade between the two states should be at the level of $30 billion.

The US administration expressed its serious concern about the Russia-Iran trade deal, and even considers it “inconsistent with the terms of the P5+1 agreement with Iran,” as Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told Reuters. She warned that it “could potentially trigger US sanctions.” But Putin insisted in response that it was Russia’s right to buy oil from Iran, because it had never subscribed to any unilateral sanctions on Iran either by the United States or the European Union, and did not have any obligations related to them.

I don’t share the view of some analysts who think that the main incentive for accepting the Iranian proposal for Russia was of a political nature, though a political message can be also found in it. My guess is that in reality, the Russian leadership believes that the determination of Rouhani to solve the nuclear crisis by the means of concessions is genuine, and Iranians can be trusted. Projecting such a scenario, one can easily assume that pretty soon, lots of companies will rush to make deals with Iran. So far, even in the worst-case scenario, in which the sides are not able to immediately start working on the oil-for-food scheme, it is still practical to reserve a place to Russia for the future. Such a project is economically feasible and profitable for both sides. The experience of the Russian LUKOIL company's deal with Iraq under sanctions was also considered impractical by many experts, and after the fall of the regime it looked like Russia was going to lose Iraq, given its disapproval of the invasion. Now, I don’t know who exactly is losing Iraq — the worst thing that can happen is that all of us together lose it — and anyway, LUKOIL is already working there. The recently signed Russian contract with the Syrians on a Mediterranean shelf gas field stands in the same group of projects.

As of now, we don’t exactly know what goods will be delivered to Iran, or how. Russian experts say that it needs black metals, machinery and other equipment, vegetable oil and wheat. Anyway, this is not a purely barter deal, and there definitely should be financial transactions. We can presume that the purchased oil will be forwarded not to Russia but to its customers, probably in Asia. There is some speculation that the Syrian interests might have been somehow involved here, but that’s just a guess.

We’ll see how the events around this deal are going to unfold and to what extent it can really boost Russian-Iranian economic cooperation, which has always faced obstacles. Those are, for instance, a feeling of mistrust toward Russia deeply embedded in the Iranian mentality based on historic grievances and the feelings of vulnerability, fear, isolation and suspicion. I often hear from my Iranian colleagues complaints about not only the non-delivery of the C-300s, but even the conquest of the southern Caucasus in the 19th century (already three independent states) and the failure to submit to Tehran the original copies of the treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmanchai (1828). There is also very strong pro-Western sentiment in the Iranian public.

As I was told some time ago, Iranian negotiators with the United States and other Western partners have been instructed by the supreme leader of Iran, given the priority of lifting sanctions, to concentrate entirely on the nuclear issue and to avoid negotiating all other topics. I can mention in this regard to one of the questions I recently got from an audience in the United States, about the possibility of striking a deal with Tehran on changing its position toward the Syrian crisis, Israel or the situation in Lebanon. One of the Iranian analysts I talked with suggested that new issues can be brought onto the negotiating table if the Americans demonstrate a “real desire” to make a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue. According to a senior diplomat, their complaints can be summarized into two issues: that the Americans begin bargaining after they have already signed documents, and that they are delaying the process. But the Iranians themselves will surely be interested in discussing the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are important for the Americans. By the way, I heard from the same source that Tehran is not very afraid of the scenario of the Taliban coming to power in Kabul because “They have learned lessons from the past and are not the same Taliban as they used to be before 2001.”

Moscow is also interested in expanding security cooperation with Tehran on Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US forces on two main tracks: deterring the threat coming from international terrorist groups, especially with a significant Central Asian component, and confronting the flow of narcotics into their territory. Last year, areas under the cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan grew by more than 30% because many Afghans started losing their jobs with American withdrawal and turned back to their old business.

Yet earlier this week, when I met former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, now the head of the Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research and an advisor the the supreme leader, he highlighted above all Iran-Russia cooperation toward the Syrian conflict, expressing his confidence in a political solution and “conditional” optimism about the future of Syria.

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