‘We need Iran in Geneva to stop spread of terror throughout Middle East’
RT:The UN Secretary-General has just reiterated his support for Iran being at Geneva-2. Since it's an UN-sponsored event, is that enough to make that happen or not?
Hillary Mann Leverett: Unfortunately, at this point it’s not. At this point both Russia and the United States have the veto power on who may attend, on which delegations may attend. [Russia is for Iran] but the US is not. At this point the US is blocking Iran’s participation.
RT:Yesterday the US Secretary of State John Kerry as good as invited Iran to take part. Yet back home a few hours later, the State Department laughed off any such invitation. Why the mixed signals, do you think?
HML: I don’t know [if] he messed up. I think what it demonstrates is the real incoherence in strategy and policy coming out of Washington, London and Paris, which seeks to somehow not just have negotiation, but to have essentially a table where Syria just comes to surrender. And that’s not something Syria is going to do, it’s not something Iran is going to support. I don’t think that’s something Russia or the vast majority of the countries around the world would support, but that’s essentially what Washington, London and Paris are trying to do. But it tends to be incoherent because it’s just not possible.
RT:We've had the significant thaw in the US-Iran relations: there's a good progress between them on the nuclear program. So why is Washington so hesitant to work with Tehran on Syria?
Flynt Leverett, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, to RT: “I think the Obama Administration is still not really serious about wanting a political settlement in Syria. If you want a serious process, you need to have Iran involved. It’s a bad indicator that the administration is not serious about building new kind of relationship with Iran. They won’t be able to accept the Islamic Republic of Iran as an important regional player, as a legitimate actor representing legitimate regional interest that is really crucial to dealing with a number of regional problems, including the conflict in Syria.”
HML: It’s very strange. When I was at the White House and the State Department within the US government, I negotiated with the current Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over Afghanistan. We negotiated with the Iranians, with the Russians very effectively to deal with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan. So there is a real track record of the US being able to work with Iran, with Russia on a really difficult problem.
It doesn’t make sense that the US doesn’t want to solicit Iran’s participation and work with Iran on this issue, except that America's so-called allies, particularly in Saudi Arabia and others in the Gulf, don’t really want to see Iran’s participation there because they don’t want Assad to be able to consolidate his authority in his country.
RT:Let’s look at the practical side of this. Why is Iran's presence seen by some as crucial for the success of Geneva talks?
HL: Iran brings not only a deep long-standing relationship with the sitting government in Syria, the government of Bashar Assad, but also brings an ability to work with countries around Syria as well. It has a very good solid relationship with the current government in Iraq. The Iranian prime minister has a good working relationship with the Turkish prime minister, and Turkey has been heavily involved in the conflict in Syria.
Right now the Iranian foreign minister is doing a regional tour, visiting all of the countries surrounding Syria – Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan. The Iranian foreign minister is very, very active and focused on using international law and conflict resolution to actually come to a political solution to a range of issues, especially on Syria. That’s incredibly important because there is no military solution to the problem in Syria. You cannot kill the Assad’s government, you cannot kill the others who support it. There is no military solution.
If we want to have a political solution, if we want to stop the killings, if we want to stop the spread of the radical jihadist terror throughout the Middle East, and even beyond the Middle East, then we need a political solution and that means we need Iran at the table.
RT:Your forecast - will it happen? Will we see Iran among the participants?
HML: There is an inevitability to Iran’s participation because there is no military solution. I’ve been saying this, unfortunately, for three years and over a 130,000 dead Syrians later, now Washington is trying in some ways to think about whether or not maybe in some way, shape and form Iran could help, maybe from the sidelines. That’s not good enough but that’s progress. I just hope it doesn’t take another three years and another 100,000 dead Syrians before we come to reality, come to some sort of sanity and work with Iran and the key players for the political solution.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.