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International Affairs

Turkish and Russian leaders can no longer compartmentalize their relations

Turkish and Russian leaders can no longer compartmentalize their relations

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Turkey’s president may have pushed the reset button of his country’s relations with Russia, but it will be a while before he can reap economic benefits.

Reason for Putin wanting gradual restoration of economic ties with Turkey: Russia cannot help rejuvenate the Turkish economy to enable the Turkish government to kill Russian soldiers (and abuse their corpses) in Syria by proxies

In 2011, the sudden protest movement popularly known as the Arab Spring triggered fundamental changes in the political and social landscapes of the Middle East—not just the Arab world as the name suggests. Turkey’s government, like many others around the world, did not know how to react at first. Erdoğan, as his country’s prime minister and then president, supported the Tunisian revolution, wavered in his support for the Egyptian president before committing to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and opposed NATO’s war on Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. When peaceful protesters took the streets in some Syrian cities, Erdoğan, relying on a sectarian instinct and a nationalist impulse, offered Assad fifteen days to meet the protesters’ demands before he would cut all relations and put all his weight behind the Syrian opposition forces. A few weeks later, Turkey played a pivotal role in using Qatari and Saudi money and weapons to transition the protest movement into an armed rebellion committed to a single objective: overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. This role, to which Erdoğan committed himself, necessarily created a conflict for him with two other powerful neighbors and economic partners: Russia and Iran.
For the first four years of the Syrian crisis, the leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Russia thought that they could compartmentalize their relations. They could continue to strengthen their economic ties, while agreeing to disagree on Syria. That approach failed when it became clear that the differences between Turkey on one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other, in relation to Syria were more than disagreements. Iran and Russia have had long-standing strategic alliances with Syria for many years. In fact, two years earlier, Iran had signed a security deal with Syria that required each of them to come to the aid of the other should one be attacked. Russia has had a naval base in Syria since the days of the Soviet Union. With that being the case, it was not possible to compartmentalize, especially when all three countries were committed to preserving their interests in Syria and in the region.
So it was no surprise that all three countries were actively involved in Syria beyond what they publicly revealed. Russia and Iran first provided the Syrian government with weapons and economic assistance to help it weather the crisis, but Turkey took a direct role from the start of the conflict and allowed the free flow of weapons and fighters into Syria. By 2015, all three countries increased their involvement. Turkey provided training, control and command centers, and free flow of weapons and fighters to the opposition groups. Russia and Iran sent more military hardware and eventually fighter jets and military personnel to Syria. That escalation led to the crucial mistake on the part of the Turkish leaders.
Hoping to draw NATO deeper in the Syrian conflict, Erdoğan ordered a Russian bomber shot down. The crew ejected, but one member was killed by an armed group supported by Turkish security forces and partially staffed by Turkish citizens. This incident prompted President Putin to impose harsh economic sanctions that further stressed the slumping Turkish economy. Russia’s economic, rather than military, response to what they saw as an act of war rendered NATO useless in terms of assisting Turkey. Putin then insisted that economic sanctions would stay in place and might even be tightened unless Erdoğan formally apologized and took responsibility for downing the Russian fighter jet and killing the pilot. Erdoğan insisted that it was Putin who should apologize for violating Turkish airspace. Seven months later, with the Turkish economy in decline, Erdoğan sent a letter to Putin expressing sorrow and taking responsibility for the incident. Russian leaders welcomed the gestures and promised to ease some of the sanctions. But Erdoğan wanted more than easing the sanctions—he needed economic relations between the two countries to be restored to the pre-incident period or better. So he requested an earlier meeting with Putin than the one scheduled to happen on the sidelines of the G-20 in China in September of this year. Putin obliged and offered to meet him in Saint Petersburg on August 9.
Erdoğan’s eagerness to meet with his Russian counterpart was motivated by economic considerations, with all other interests being secondary. Russian leaders are also interested in boosting economic ties, but not in a way that will undercut their broader interests in the region. Consequently, the two sides went into the meeting with different priorities. However, it is clear that the Turkish side lacks the strategic thinking that would allow them to see the connection between the Syrian crisis and their national economic conditions. The Turkish economy’s growth was cut by almost 50% immediately after the Syrian crisis, and that correlation alone should be enough to convince Turkish leaders to address both their economic concerns and the Syrian crisis at the same time, not in isolation from one another. Failure to do so soon will undo the possible benefits of the apology.
There is a reason Erdoğan is widely popular in Turkey: since he and his party, AKP, won the first elections that allowed them to govern without the need for a coalition for nearly a decade and a half, he turned a slumping economy with a negative GDP growth rate—-5.7 in 2001—into a formidable global force. He attracted investors, rebuilt the infrastructure, and turned Turkey into a magnet for businesspersons and tourists. The results were impressive: Between 2002 and 2011, Turkey’s average GDP growth rate was 5.45.
The average GDP  in the last four years, since the start of the so-called Arab Spring (2012-2015), barely reached 3.33. The numbers for 2016 are worrisome. Turkey’s problem became tied to the Syrian crisis when Erdoğan took it upon himself to be the defender of the Syrian people against their own president: he threw his support behind violent groups allowing the flow of weapons and fighters into that country with the aim of overthrowing Assad’s government. Given the long-standing relationship between Russia and Syria, Turkish-Russian relations suffered, especially when Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 near its border with Syria . The connections between the Syrian crisis, Turkey’s relations with Russia, and the health of the Turkish economy are compelling . Although Russia would benefit from economic ties with Turkey, Russian leaders have made the connection between long-term economic development and strategic alliances with other countries. With Russia soldiers now dying in Syria on the hands of fighters enabled, trained, and supported by Turkey, it would be reckless for Russia to fully separate economic interests and military and security matters involving Turkey. That is one of the main reasons Erdoğan returned from Russia practically empty handed, with only promises.
Russia will not shore up a Turkish economy that supports terrorists in Syria who killed Russian soldiers, abused their corpses, and threaten to kill more. For that reason, Putin insisted that the lifting of sanctions must be gradual. Russian thinking is long term: if Putin waited for seven months to receive Erdoğan’s apology, he is prepared to wait another seven months to see Turkey implement its commitments to fighting terrorism by sealing the border and stopping the flow of weapons, fighters, and stolen Syrian oil and goods.
Russians are prepared to fast-track the economic projects that are long term and delay the ones with immediate payoff for the Turkish economy until Turkey meets its obligations. Russia’s thinking was reflected in their plan to restart work on Turkish Stream pipeline, without shelving alternative projects involving other countries. The principle that Russian leaders are using to reset their relations with Turkey also favors restarting economic exchange that benefits the Russian economy and while delaying exchange that benefits the Turkish economy until Turkey changes its calculus on Syria. Russia is not conditioning its economic relations with Turkey on Syria because it cares about Assad, but because Turkey is indirectly killing Russians in Syria.
The other principle guiding Russia’s foreign policy in relation to the Syrian crisis was made clear during the press conference that Erdoğan and Putin held after their first meeting. Responding to the first question, Putin looked at his guest and declared:
“Our position is based on this enduring principle: It is impossible to achieve democratic change except through democratic means.”
Not only are these principles guiding Russia’s approach to the Syrian crisis making it difficult for Erdoğan to capitalize on his pragmatism, the consequences of his involvement in Syria are making it almost impossible to start from zero. Indeed, making amends for one jet and one pilot may cost him some political capital and about $25 million. Should Syria pursue legal action to force countries that supported military aggression and profited from looted goods and natural resources to pay reparations, Turkey could be on the hook for billions. Erdoğan was willing to apologize and normalize relations with Putin but not with not Assad because of the cost that might be associated with admission of responsibility in the destruction of Syria.
This is not to say that Turkey has no way out of its problem with Syria. Erdoğan could use Russia as intermediate partner to spend the next five years rebuilding what he helped destroy in Syria over the past five years. This indirect action could be the compromise that might actually work for all parties. The “coup” that Erdoğan wanted to launch against the Syrian government using genocidal fighters did not work, will not work, and may have inspired the failed coup against his government. He has this one opportunity that he had created when he apologized and took responsibility for downing the Russian plane; if unused, all will be for naught.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Could the Cessation of Hostilities help U.S. and Russia overcome their differences on Syria?

Could the Cessation of Hostilities help U.S. and Russia overcome their differences on Syria?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*


ISIL fighters
It is evident at this point that Syria’s war is not a civil war. It is a world war and now the two superpowers, the U.S. and Russia emerged out of the shadows of their regional allies to take charge. Early this year, the two countries reached an agreement called Cessation of Hostilities (CH), initially effecting select cities but open to be applied across Syria.  The Cessation of Hostilities is simply a bilateral understanding between the U.S. and Russia. It is not a peace accord nor is it an armistice. It is something in between necessitated by the complex map of groups fighting the Syrian government. This CH automatically excluded any and all groups labelled terrorists by the UNSC, including the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its offshoot, al-Nusra Front. In theory, any armed opposition group can be party to this deal provided its members–or a representative thereof–contact monitoring centers staffed by Russian personnel, since Americans are not authorized by the Syrian government to be on Syrian soil, overtly at least. The deal worked in bring some calm to some areas and gave many Syrians some hope.

Earlier, al-Nusra Front, fearing isolation, merged with other groups forming Jaysh al-Fath. With the start of the CH regime on February 27, 2016, al-Nusra used this alliance to launch attacks in northern Syria, virtually collapsing the CH regime. This week, Secretary Kerry announced a new plan, perhaps just and updated one, that could put Syria back on track for a political solution. It might actually work. There are a number of reasons for our optimism.
One of the main reasons behind the failure to solve the crisis in Syria lies in the nature, composition, and regional sponsors of the Syrian opposition. The strongest opposition groups are extremist Salafists and fighters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The three main supporters of the Syrian opposition fighters, Qatar and Turkey (strong supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Saudi Arabia (sponsor of Salafism), have insisted from the start that the overthrow of Assad supersedes the defeat of al-Qaeda and its derivatives (mainly ISIL, al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Islam). These three countries have principally nothing in common except their shared disdain for Assad. Consequently, their alliance of convenience could not last. So it did not.
Within a year or so, and seeing that Russia and China twice blocked UNSC resolutions that could have authorized the use of force against the Syrian government, the Qatari ruler, Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al Thani, realized that that path he has taken was very difficult. The Emir abdicated and transferred power to his son, Tamim. This move offered the tiny but influential country a way out of a crisis it cannot manage and left Saudi Arabia and Turkey leading the efforts to overthrow Assad.
Initially, these two countries, despite their differences over the status of the regime in Egypt and position on the Muslim Brotherhood politics and ideology, decided to stay united on Syria. Their strategy consisted of continued support to rebel groups, initially organized under a loose umbrella organization called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighting under the green and black flag, to ensure the fall of the Syrian government, not weaken any of them. The transfer of arms and money supposedly to the FSA, somehow, benefitted al-Nusra and ISIL, too. Within months from the start of the armed conflict, the FSA became all but a shell that provided cover to ISIL and al-Nusra. When the latter two groups grew confident and self-sufficient, they abandoned the FSA flag, raising their own black flags over large territories, forcing FSA groups out.  
When ISIL declared its caliphate and took control of key cities and provinces in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. formed a coalition dedicated to fighting ISIL, essentially creating two kinds of opposition groups in Syria: ISIL and the “legitimate opposition.” However, the U.S. and its allies conveniently avoided defining “legitimate” opposition.
In theory, this coalition was to fight ISIL, exclusively. In reality, the this coalition has had two objectives. The coalition bombed ISIL territories from the air, but also provided weapons and training for the so-called “moderate rebels” who would fight both–the Syrian government and ISIL. The efforts paid off on both fronts. While the air campaign limited ISIL advances, the influx of sophisticated weapons to “moderate” fighters, including al-Nusra, allowed them to take over territories previously under government control, threatening even Assad’s stronghold, Syria’s coastal region. This prompted Russia to send troops and airplanes, upon a request from Assad, to help him regain control of the territories his troops lost. He did regain control within about five months. Russia’s intervention created a new balance of power. Importantly, it also offered the anti-ISIL coalition a channel through which to talk to the Syrian government.
The Russian intervention in Syria created a unique challenge for Turkey, especially, since it benefited from Syria’s oil sold by ISIL and was able to limit Kurdish gains. Russia’s intervention strengthened the Syrian Kurds and shut down the flow of Syrian oil. Turkey, reacted angrily, shooting down a Russia bomber near its border with Syria, prompting President Putin to impose crippling economic sanctions and grounding Turkish planes with the insertion of Russia’s sophisticated S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system. These measures forced Turkey’s powerful president to rethink his approach to the Syrian crisis. After nearly five months of refusing to apologize for the incident, Erdogan sent a letter to Putin doing just that and urging Putin to normalize relations. Putin obliged, lifting the ban on travel to Turkey and promising to consider other steps once Turkish authorities take actual steps to address other concerns.
Turkey’s economic and security woes, made real by the July 15 failed coup, have forced the Turkish president to speed up his rapprochement with Russia. His office announced that he will travel to Saint Petersburg on August 9, where he will meet Putin to put their bilateral relations back on track. However, normalizing relations with Russia necessarily requires Turkey to drop its demand for overthrowing Assad and fight terrorism instead. That much was made clear by the Russian leaders upon receiving Erdogan’s letter of apology. Erdogan’s unhappiness with U.S. and European governments may compel him to, minimally take a neutral position regarding the fate of Assad, or side with Russia to maximize return from his overture on Russia. Either of those outcomes will reduce the anti-Assad alliance to one country, Saudi Araba.
The shift in Turkey’s position on Syria is making the rulers of Saudi Arabia nervous since they will be the only ones insisting on prioritizing ousting Assad over fighting terrorist entities. Signs that Saudi Arabia is feeling the isolation already emerged during the last Arab League Summit held this week in Mauritania. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have set the agenda and tone of the outcome of the League’s summit in the past five years. This time, however, Saudi Arabia failed not only to have the Syrian opposition represent Syria during the meeting, but also failed to convince the League to invite it even as observer–a huge change compared to the summit held in Qatar when Syria’s seat was filled by the head of the Syrian opposition, Moaz al-Khatib.
In addition to this game-changer event involving Turkey, a couple of other events created new conditions that are forcing key parties to the armed conflict in Syria to adjust their roles and expectations.
First, Iraq’s success in retaking Fallujah in a relatively short fight against ISIL dispelled the notion of invincibility projected by that puritan group and its supporters. Should the Iraqi forces succeed in retaking Mosul, ISIL will be practically out of Iraq and will resort to suicidal terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians. Without dislodging ISIL from major cities in Syria, the threat of terrorist attacks will be significant. Moreover, Iraqi gains could be easily reversed should ISIL remain in control of cities and towns along the Syrian borders. Iraqi leaders know this and to prevent that from happening, they announced that they will work with the Syrian government to help the latter retake the city of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor.
Second, the rise of the number of terrorist attacks in Europe, the U.S., and other countries is forcing more people in countries that ignored ISIL in the past to push their governments to focus on fighting terrorism–not on overthrowing the Syrian government.
These significant changes are keeping U.S. top diplomat, Secretary Kerry, very busy adjusting U.S. strategy on Syria. He travelled to Russia spending about ten hours with Putin and an additional four hours with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. On Tuesday, Kerry said that he will be in a position to announce a robust plan for coordinating efforts with Russia on Syria early next month, signaling the significance of the agreement he reached with the Russian leaders, which would require review and approval by his boss, President Obama, and national security policymakers.
The outstanding problem between the U.S. and Russia has been the lack of coordination of military efforts fighting terrorism in Syria. The U.S. and its allies are insisting on limiting military strikes to ISIL. Russia wants to fight ISIL and other terrorist groups, including al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. Although the U.S. recognizes al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, it had not targeted it, perhaps out of respect for some of its allies who are known supporters of al-Nusra and the allies of al-Nusra.
Publicly however, the U.S. administration justified its exclusion of al-Nusra from military strikes by arguing that territories controlled by al-Nusra and “legitimate” opposition are mixed. Russia is not convinced because it is using a different standard. Russian leaders want the Cessations of Hostilities regime to be the determining factor of who should be targeted and who should not be targeted. They argue that if the opposition groups are committed to a political solution, they should stop fighting and move out of the areas controlled by fighters who reject a political solution. The new plan, which will include at least part of Russia’s reasoning, will enable U.S. and Russia to bypass their differences over the identity of terrorist entities and the fate of Assad. Should the new plan use this criterion, terrorist groups will not be able to avoid being targeted by changing their names or breaking their public affiliation with known terrorist organizations.
A new strategy that takes into considerations these complex issues would replace the untenable, self-serving one proposed by the backers of the opposition groups who argued that the Syrian regime will not agree to a political solution unless the opposition forces gain the upper hand.  Five years of relying on a strategy of indiscriminately arming and assisting all groups fighting the Syrian government forces to attain that questionable goal did not work. A strategy that calls on a political dialogue involving only groups that agree to Cessations of Hostilities might work. This strategy could even allow U.S. and Russian military to work together on stabilizing a region in so much need for peace and development.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Context and consequences of the resignation of the architect of Turkey’s zero-problem foreign policy

Context and consequences of the resignation of the architect of Turkey’s zero-problem foreign policy

By Rahmat Hajimineh*

A recent decision by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, which was announced on May 5, to resign his post, can be considered as the outcome of a power struggle in Turkey’s political structure a review of which will not only be important in terms of typology of politicians’ behaviors, but also from the viewpoint of its consequences.
The first thing that seems to be important following Davutoglu’s resignation is the meaning and type of his resignation in political literature of Turkey. The development has been described as the “palace coup” by those opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party and outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including the leader of Turkey’s Republican People’s Party Kemal Kilicdaroglu. This term is used to denote that Davutoglu has been actually deposed from power by Erdogan.

Also, this reaction was aimed at highlighting Erdogan’s totalitarian nature as a person who will even victimize his old friend and close ally in order to pave the way for achieving his ambitions. This measure was also a sign of the opposition parties’ concern about more centralization of power in the hands of Erdogan and one may claim that Kilicdaroglu is trying to exploit political gaps within the Justice and Development Party in favor of his own party. At the same time, Davutoglu’s remarks on his decision to step down can be construed as compulsory resignation, which in political literature is a form of early withdrawal from a power post when the person occupying it left with no other choice.

Another important issue that should be taken into account for correct understanding of this resignation is the time when serious difference emerged between Davutoglu and Erdogan, causing Davutoglu to step down. The point on which analysts have consensus is that differences between the two politicians broke out after Davutoglu was appointed prime minister in 2014, especially following revelations about Turkey’s intelligence service, MIT, using trucks to smuggle weapons into Syria, the news of which was first released by the Cumhuriyet daily. The two politicians later came to loggerheads over trial of two Cumhuriyet journalists who had published the report. If Erdogan had seen or even felt this difference of viewpoints earlier, he would not have chosen this university professor, who had been his senior advisor since 2002, as foreign minister in 2009 and then as the leader of the Justice and Development Party and Turkish prime minister in 2014. Those appointments attested to Erdogan’s complete trust in Davutoglu, which despite existence of other seasoned and more influential figures in the party, it was Davutoglu who was first chosen as the party’s leader and then as Turkey’s prime minister through Erdogan’s direct support.
On the other hand, Davutoglu as senior advisor to president and foreign minister was not considered a serious option for rivalry against Erdogan in the country’s domestic politics and was mostly known in the foreign policy field, which only made him an affiliate of Erdogan as the head of state. However, as prime minister, Davutoglu found himself at the highest level of Turkey’s executive branch according to the constitution, but in practice, he was still overshadowed by Erdogan and was only seen as a titular official. Despite the shift in their roles, Erdogan expected Davutoglu to play his past role and considered any change in his behavior, even any silence or dawdling by the prime minister on any issue as a form of rivalry and this was a situation which made Erdogan distrustful of Davutoglu. This distrust had grown so deep that some party allies of Erdogan even tried to accuse Davutoglu of treason against president.
Although Davutoglu’s resignation took place without much hype and serious challenge, it will have consequences for Turkey’s both domestic and foreign policies. This is true especially under current conditions when Turkey is witnessing parliamentary tensions over a bill proposing to strip lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity. The country is also grappling with other kinds of tensions as a result of the ongoing war with Kurdish militants, increasing security threats as a consequence of terrorist attacks by Daesh within and without its borders, presence of over 2.7 million Syrian refugees on its soil, and the implementation of an agreement with the European Union to curb flow of refugees to Europe.
Inside the country, the most important issue is that after resignation of Davutoglu and appointment of a person close to Erdogan as prime minister, efforts will be heightened to change the country’s parliamentary system to a presidential system, which is the most important goal pursued by Erdogan. An evidence to the point is Erdogan’s remarks one day after Davutoglu’s resignation on May 6 when he said “the existing parliamentary system is cause of crisis. Therefore, a presidential system will be offered to people to endorse it.” These remarks clearly reflected Erdogan’s main concern about the existing conditions in the country. As for Turkey’s policies toward Kurds, it seems that after Davutoglu is removed from decision-making structure, Erdogan will mount pressure on lawmakers from the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkish parliament and continue the war on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and this situation will possibly continue in short term, especially before the time for next election gets close.
In the area of foreign policy, the most important issue under current conditions is the future outlook of the agreement signed by Turkey and the European Union over the flow of refugees to Europe, which has come to be known as Davutoglu’s project. Therefore, now that Davutoglu has left this game, the next prime minister is expected to take the initiative in this regard. What is more noticeable with regard to this issue is the non-European approach taken by Erdogan as compared to Europe-oriented approach of Davutoglu. As a result, when faced with pressures mounted by European countries on Ankara to make more amendments to its anti-terror law, Erdogan told Europe in a statement, “We’ll go our way, you go yours.” Since European countries need Turkey in their handling of the sweeping wave of refugees, this situation has put them in a difficult situation for curbing the influx of asylum seekers. Therefore, European political officials are expected to adopt a more lenient policy toward Ankara in order to protect themselves in the face of the ongoing influx of refugees.
On the whole, one may claim that resignation of Davutoglu from chairmanship of the Justice and Development Party and the prime minister’s post has been a result of the existence of important, but covert, differences that have emerged between Turkey’s two top politicians. These differences had gradually grown since Davutoglu became prime minister in 2014. This situation caused Erdogan to lose trust in his former ally and see him as a serious rival raised by himself. As a result, he tried to scuttle Davutoglu’s power for choosing party officials, thus stripping him of the executive power he had within the Justice and Development Party. Davutoglu was quick to receive the message of this measure and before facing more accusations from his own party, decided to cede power in a peaceful manner. His behavior will lead to establishment of Erdogan’s full control inside the country while in the area of foreign policy it will show a less resilient Turkey to the world.

* Rahmat Hajimineh is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Islamic Azad University; Tehran
Researcher at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies

Iran P5+1 nuclear deal: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — page 1 (full text)

Iran P5+1 nuclear deal: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — page 1 (full text)


After 12 years of negotiations, Iran was able to ink an agreement with the world’s powerful nations to end harsh regimes of sanctions, some of which go as far back as 35 years ago. The document, now known as the  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is substantively extensive and qualitatively meticulous. It reveals for the first time the deep sanctions, restrictions, and isolation imposed on Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. It also reveals the limited nature of the nuclear program Iran has built. Ultimately, this agreement has become more about legitimizing Iran’s political order and less about nuclear weapons. Iran, after years of isolation, emerges as a regional power in a region in dire need for stability. This document shows that Iran leveraged a bomb it did not have to relieve itself of sanctions it did not deserve.

–Ahmed E. Souaiaia


Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
Vienna, 14 July 2015
The E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) and the Islamic Republic of Iran welcome this historic Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which will ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful, and mark a fundamental shift in their approach to this issue. They anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.
Iran envisions that this JCPOA will allow it to move forward with an exclusively
indigenous nuclear programme, in line with scientific and economic
considerations, in
accordance with the JCPOA, and with a view to building
and encouraging
international cooperation. In this context,
the initial mutually determined limitations
described in this JCPOA will be
followed by a gradual evolution, at a reasonable pace, of
Iran’s peaceful nuclear
programme, including its enrichment activities, to a commercial
programme for

exclusively peaceful purposes, consistent with international non-proliferation norms.
The E3/EU+3 envision that the implementation of this JCPOA will progressively
to  gain
confidence  in  the  exclusively  peaceful  nature  of  Iran’s
programme. The JCPOA
reflects mutually determined parameters, consistent
with  agreed
limits  on  the  scope  of  Iran’s  nuclear
programme, including enrichment activities and R&D. The JCPOA addresses the E3/EU+3’s concerns, including through comprehensive measures providing for transparency and verification.
The JCPOA will produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme, including steps on access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy.
i.           The Islamic Republic of Iran and the E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) have decided upon this long-term Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA). This JCPOA, reflecting a step-by-step approach, includes the reciprocal commitments as laid down in this document and the annexes hereto and is to be endorsed by the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
ii.           The full implementation of this JCPOA will ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

iii.           Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.
iv.          Successful implementation of this JCPOA will enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in line with its obligations therein, and the Iranian nuclear programme will be treated in the same manner as that of any other non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT.
v.          This JCPOA will produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme, including steps on access in areas of trade, technology, finance and energy.
vi.          The E3/EU+3 and Iran reaffirm their commitment to the purposes and principles of the United Nations as set out in the UN Charter.
vii.           The E3/EU+3 and Iran acknowledge that the NPT remains the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
viii.            The E3/EU+3 and Iran commit to implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit and intent of this JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation. The E3/EU+3 will refrain from imposing discriminatory regulatory and procedural requirements in lieu of the sanctions and restrictive measures covered by this JCPOA. This JCPOA builds on

the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) agreed in Geneva on 24
November 2013.
ix.          A Joint Commission consisting of the E3/EU+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of this JCPOA and will carry out the functions provided for in this JCPOA. This Joint Commission will address issues arising from the implementation of this JCPOA and will operate in accordance with the provisions as detailed in the relevant annex.
x.          The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be requested to monitor and verify the voluntary nuclear-related measures as detailed in this JCPOA. The IAEA will be requested to provide regular updates to the Board of Governors, and as provided for in this JCPOA, to the UN Security Council. All relevant rules and regulations of the IAEA with regard to the protection of information will be fully observed by all parties involved.
xi.          All provisions and measures contained in this JCPOA are only for the purpose of its implementation between E3/EU+3 and Iran and should not be considered as setting precedents for any other state or for fundamental principles of international law and the rights and obligations under the NPT and other relevant instruments, as well as for internationally recognised principles and practices.
xii.           Technical details of the implementation of this JCPOA are dealt with in the annexes to this document.

xiii.           The EU and E3+3 countries and Iran, in the framework of the JCPOA, will cooperate, as appropriate, in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and engage in mutually determined civil nuclear cooperation projects as detailed in Annex III, including through IAEA involvement.
xiv.          The E3+3 will submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council endorsing this JCPOA affirming that conclusion of this JCPOA marks a fundamental shift in its consideration of this issue and expressing its desire to build a new relationship with Iran. This UN Security Council resolution will also provide for the termination on Implementation Day of provisions imposed under previous resolutions; establishment of specific restrictions; and conclusion of consideration of the Iran nuclear issue by the UN Security Council 10 years after the Adoption Day.
xv.          The provisions stipulated in this JCPOA will be implemented for their respective durations as set forth below and detailed in the annexes.
xvi.          The E3/EU+3 and Iran will meet at the ministerial level every 2 years, or earlier if needed, in order to review and assess progress and to adopt appropriate decisions by consensus.
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The paradoxical nature of religious and ethnic states and the genocidal impulses

The paradoxical nature of religious and ethnic states and the genocidal impulses

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

The Arab Spring that freed some of the peoples of the Middle East from state imposed fear produced an existential challenge for increasingly heterogeneous communities, forcing people to define the nature of the state and the character of the country where they live. It is true that self-rule and self-determination require a sense of self. However, building stable countries in the new Middle East is tied to the peoples’ level of awareness of the genocidal impulse espoused by certain social groups amongst them. 

The old Middle East was built on an artificial foundation imposed by Western colonial and protective powers in the form of superficial liberal thought, imported Marxist ideas, petty ethnic identities, niggling tribal structures, and a variety of downwardly managed and imposed ideas. The regimes and political forces of the pre- and post-colonial periods exerted virtual monopoly on governing institutions in most Arab countries. During the second half of the twentieth century, Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, began to challenge nationalist, monarchical, and clannish regimes arguing that Islamism provides a more inclusive political ideology for the peoples of the Middle East than alien ideas or narrow Arabism.

Consequently, Islamists clashed with secularists (consisting of Arab nationalists, liberals, Marxists, leftists, etc.) and monarchs and sheikhs. Secularists opposed Islamists on the basis that only a “neutral” secular state could guarantee equality among all citizens. Monarchs, on the other hand, either created their own versions of Islamism or co-opted existing ones to offset the rising popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab Spring amplified the tension between these competing trends. The future of the Middle East in particular and Islamic societies in general will depend on the outcome of these contestations. Specifically, political actors must address the place of religion and ethnicity, as defining identity markers, in the post-Arab Spring countries.

In Tunisia, for instance, all political debates were reduced to two competing propositions: the civil state versus the shari`ah-compliant state. It would seem that the consensus, as expressed in the new constitution, was in favor of a civil state where respect for religion, not any particular interpretation of Islam, is honored by all and imposed on none.

In Egypt, however, and immediately after the fall of Mubarak’s regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi allies used their dominant organizational advantage to privilege a particular interpretation of Islam over all other interpretations and religions. That project failed and Egypt reverted to a Mubarak-like regime, for now. Importantly, the opportunity given to all Islamists to participate in representative governance and the subsequent failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to foster pluralism relativized the religious political discourse to the extent that even Salafis embraced realpolitik and sided with the military against the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Syria, all armed groups were united in their goal to overthrow the Ba`ath regime but they did not have a unifying vision for the future. Indeed, the Ba`ath government, as a post-colonial regime, is outdated. However, based on their own statements, the ideology of the most powerful opposition groups, the Islamic State (formerly, ISIL), al-Nusra Front, the Islamic Front, and many Islamist groups is beyond outdated. Their ideology is genocidal. These groups call for an Islamic state that is deviants-free, where non-Muslim citizens are reduced to a subordinate class, where non-Arabs are perpetually treated as inferior, and where secular Muslims are designated blasphemous enemies of God. A state built on these ideas is irresoluble, impracticable, and paradoxical for it violates the very basic understanding of the universal prohibition on genocide let alone the universal commitment to honor human dignity everywhere and under all circumstances.

The implicit support and tolerance of groups like the Islamic State are utterly disturbing. The lack of outrage towards ISIL’s actions against vulnerable sectarian and ethnic minorities is shocking. Not only did ISIL express its intend to kill all those who do not submit to its will, but it broke new grounds by committing retroactive genocide when it destroyed mosques, graveyards, churches, and iconic religious and cultural structures that echo the presence of diverse communities from thousands of years past. In a sense, ISIL and its supporters are committing two-way genocide when they kill or displace minorities and destroy their ancient historical sites. Considering the atrocities ISIL and al-Nusra inflict even on each other when they disagree, it becomes clear that these groups embody unmatched brutality and stunning lack of respect to human dignity enshrined in universal declarations and treaties prohibiting cruelty and genocide.

The commonly agreed upon definition of genocide is clear. It is “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.” International law provides specific examples of acts that are genocidal like killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Moreover, international law punishes those who commit genocide, conspire to commit genocide, directly and publicly incite committing genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and being complicit in genocide.

With these definitions and examples in mind, the perpetrators of genocide in places like Iraq, Syria, and Libya become numerous. Responsibility falls on the shoulders of the actual actors who commit these crimes as well as on the shoulders of those who are complicit—those who are supporting ideologies that promote and sustain genocidal thought and inspire genocidal acts.

Post-Arab Spring countries could overcome the genocidal impulse and combat state imposed fear at the same time when they reject ideological purity in favor of absolute respect to human dignity. The Arab Spring, after all, may have signaled the beginning of the end of the precursors to ideological purity namely exclusionary models of nationalism such as Arabism, Turkism, Kurdism, Zionism, Berberism, Persianism, Islamism, and all other forms of ethnicity- and religion-inspired isms. A stable and peaceful future can be achieved through national identities that are more inclusive and more egalitarian in terms of respect to rights and dignity.

It is difficult to predict the specific future of the new Middle East. But it is not difficult to predict that the new Middle East will be better than the old one. Too much blood and agony have been spent to revert to the old Middle East or build a mediocre one. In this interconnected global community, no country can exist in isolation from its neighbors. With that being the case, the religious and ethnic state models become ethically, legally, and politically unsustainable. The peoples of the Middle East, therefore, must reject the proposition that only an Arab state can protect Arabs, only a Kurdish state can protect Kurds, only a Persian state can protect Persians, only a Shi`ite state can protect Shi`as, only a Sunni state can protect Sunnis, only a Christian state can protect Christians, only a Jewish state can protect Jews, and so-on. Because these ideas eventually lead to genocidal attitudes and acts. Peoples in that region must learn to confront their fear of each other and work together to build alliances on the basis of mutual respect and mutual commitment to dignity. They must commit to the principle that surviving or fearing a genocide does not give any community a legal or moral license to preemptively commit one.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Is Ukraine becoming for the West what Syria has been for Russia?

Is Ukraine becoming for the West what Syria has been for Russia?

Riding the wave of protests known as the Arab Spring, many Syrians rallied to demand more political and civil rights. Without the hesitancy that characterized their initial reaction to the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt, Western administrations and some of the Persian Gulf regimes immediately threw their support behind the protesters. Assad’s regime belonged to the so-called non-moderate Arab governments and the protesters offered the West and its allies an opportunity to overthrow it. They formed the “Friends of Syria” group, now consisting of only eleven nations, to provide the opposition with all needed support, including deadly arms, to achieve that goal. After three years of brutal war, Syria’s economy and society are severely damaged and its allies, mainly Russia, China, and Iran have invested a huge political, economic, and military capital to help the Syrian government survive. The Friends of Syria claimed that Assad became illegitimate because he killed Syrians. Assad claimed that he was fighting armed terrorists and thugs.

Now fast-forward to 2013. 

In November of last year (2013), in Ukraine, President Yanukovych’s cabinet voted to abandon an agreement on closer trade ties with EU in favor of economic co-operation with Russia. Reacting to this decision, tens of thousands of people attended a demonstration in Kiev. In early December, protesters occupied Kiev city hall and Independence Square. 
To shore up support for Ukrainian government, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to buy out $15 billion of Ukrainian debt. Protesters grew more violent and by the end of February 2014, more than 90 people were killed including dozens of police and security personnel. Consequently, President Yanukovych left Kiev only to be deposed by the parliament, a move he rejected as illegal. Russia, in the meantime, declared the new regime in Kiev illegitimate and moved to annex Crimea and build its troops along the border threatening to move in should Russia speaking minorities in eastern Ukraine be harmed.

Taking their cues from Crimeans, many eastern Ukranians launched their own protest movement, taking over government buildings and military installations, and demanding a new constitution that would grant them more autonomy. Kiev reacted by sending more troops. The next steps will determine if Ukraine falls into prolonged armed struggle, like Syria, or reach a political settlement. 

If all parties have learned anything from the Syrian crisis, they should know that a Syrian style conflict, which will be essentially another proxy war, will create another global humanitarian and economic crisis. The outcome of the proposed quartet (Russia, U.S. Ukraine, and the EU) meeting, should it happen, will provide more clues about the direction of this crisis.  Should they ignore the similarities between the crises in Ukraine and Syria, Ukraine will be for the West what Syria has been for Russia in the last three years: political and diplomatic vortex.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Deficiencies in the arguments for a U.S. war on Syria and the perils of military intervention in Syria without UNSC authorization

Deficiencies in the arguments for a U.S. war on Syria and the perils of military intervention in Syria without UNSC authorization

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Answering a reporter’s question if bombing Syria is needed in order to preserve his credibility since he was the one who set a red line, President Obama replied: “First of all, I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty…”

It is true that international law and treaties have prohibited the use of certain weapons nearly a century ago. But UN Charter, the backbone of international law, also had established the proper response to any breach of these treaties. Outside the doctrine of self-defense from an imminent threat, no nation should attack another UN member state without authorization of the UN Security Council (UNSC). If nations were to act unilaterally, would U.S. leaders ratify a treaty that would allow, say the Soviet Union or China, to bomb the U.S. for actually using illegal weapons in Vietnam and other places?

The credibility of the President and that of the United States government will be further eroded if the President stubbornly rushes to war without UNSC resolution or making the case for self-defense. Attacking Syria under any other pretext will add to the image of the U.S. as being a bully who acts above the law and for suspect reasons. The UNSC could not act without evidence and part of that evidence was being collected by UN Inspectors who were in Damascus when the chemical attacks took place. Curiously, however, President Obama wanted to attack Syria (some expected an attack on Thursday) when UN Inspectors had just arrived to the scene.

Administration officials will point out that they sought UNSC approval but China and Russia were not supportive. The Chinese and the Russian leaders have argued that military action can be taken only when credible evidence of use of chemical weapons is presented. Russia’s president went further declaring that his country would support military action against any party in Syria should evidence be presented to the UNSC. That position seems more credible and logical than that of someone wanting to act first and ask questions later.

The Administration justified its desire to unilaterally attack Syria by arguing that (1) Russia and China are preventing the UNSC from acting, (2) the U.S. has enough evidence to prove that Assad and only Assad could and have used chemical weapons, (3) the killing of civilians near Damascus is too obscene to ignore, (4) only the regime has the capability to deploy chemical weapons, and (5) military action is the only way to force Assad to come to the negotiating table.

These are utterly weak arguments and grossly inaccurate statements.

First, Russia and China said that they did not see any credible evidence that identify the perpetrators and that they have evidence of their own that the Syrian opposition groups possessed chemical weapons and have used them in the past. In fact, allegations of use of chemical weapons in at least three other places were the reason for sending the UN Inspectors to Syria in the first place.

Second, there is always room for additional evidence to convince responsible members of the UNSC to authorize an extraordinary act, such as attacking a sovereign nation. Moreover, if the UNSC veto system is what is preventing the UNSC to act responsibly, the U.S. should join other nations that are calling for reform. But to complain, now, about the use and abuse of the veto when the U.S. has used and abused it more than the other four nations combined is indeed hypocritical and that is what erodes the President’s credibility and that of the nation’s.

Third, the slaughter of Syrians became obscene when the peaceful uprising was militarized and when Qatar and Saudi Arabia provided dangerous weapons to fighters with sectarian agenda, not today. Administration officials are quick to cite that 100,000 Syrians were killed. But what they will not cite is that 56,000 of 100,000 were killed by the rebels. In fact, 41,000 of the victims are Alawites—Assad’s sect. This disproportional killing of minorities is what sustains the regime: many Syrians belonging to Alawite, Druze, Shi`i, and Christian minorities think that Assad is the only man standing between them and a Taliban-like regime. Just Thursday, al-Qaeda affiliates took over a Christian town forcing frightened residents to flee; a mass slaughter is expected unless government forces retake the town soon. Recently, al-Nusra fighters have attacked Kurdish towns, forcing many residents to seek shelter in Northern Iraq. The Syrian regime could have collapsed during the first three months if the world community provided a credible alternative that will protect minorities from al-Qaeda affiliates and their sponsors.

Fourth, it is not an established fact that only the regime has the capability to deploy chemical weapons. That conclusion is not based on hard evidence; it is based on deductive and inductive reasoning. Be that as it may, it is reasonable to believe otherwise. Briefing leaders from the Friends of Syria group, the leader of the Free Syrian Army stated that he commands more than 80,000 disciplined troops who were members of Syrian armed forces and defected. With that being the case, is it inconceivable that some of the officers who defected know where some of the chemical weapons are and how to deploy them? Given the level of cooperation between the rebels, is it inconceivable that such information and knowledge was passed to extremist groups? Given the determination of Qatar and Saudi Arabia to overthrow the regime at any cost, is it inconceivable that such regimes provided crude chemicals that could be weaponized to rebels? Rebels have overrun many military installations in the past, is it inconceivable that they found some chemical weapons at those sites? Indeed, the brutality of the regime as described by its opponents is matched only by the cruelty of some rebel groups as described by the videos and statements they themselves have released. To romanticize the rebels and deaminize the government is destructive political bias or willful ignorance.

Fifth, the idea that the Syrian regime needs to be convinced by an act of war to attend political talks is factually untrue. It is the so-called National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces that refused to attend the proposed talks known as Geneva-2, not the regime. The U.S. administration is in fact incapable of convincing the opposition groups to attend Geneva-2 because Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey are opposed to a political settlement.

Lastly, the Administration (see Kerry’s statements to Congress) is twisting the fact to support its case for war when it quantified the rebels by stating that “moderates” are stronger than “extremists.” One does not need classified intelligence these days to know that that is not true. Still, the CIA, foreign intelligence communities, and NGOs have all concluded that al-Qaeda-like rebelsare stronger and better equipped than fighters of the Free Syrian Army, the so-called moderate opposition.

For any nation, the only way to start a war against another country without UNSC authorization is in self-defense. The President needs to make the case that the Syrian government is an imminent threat to United States’ national security. He needs to make that case to the American public and Congress. The credibility of the UNSC is in acting within the framework set for it by its member states. Starting a war unilaterally will weaken the only international regime that strives to maintain world peace and security. The President ought to think about the long term effects of his rush to war. After all, public opposition (under 29% support the attack provided that there are evidence that Assad used CW against civilians) to his desire to act in Syria was due, in part, to another U.S. president’s rush to start another illegal war in Iraq. He ought to stop the cycle not perpetuate it.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Interview of President Assad with Turkish Media

Interview of President Assad with Turkish Media

Interview in English translation:

Interview in Arabic: Watch video
The full text of the interview:
Question: Mr President, you are welcome on Ulusal TV station. My first question might be a bit strange, but I need to ask it, because in the Turkish and world media there has been a lot of information published to the effect that you were killed or that you have left the country. Can you confirm that you are still alive and still in Syria?
President Assad: First, I would like to welcome you and your team to Syria. It is a pleasure for me to talk to you today and through your station to the brotherly Turkish people. Clearly you can see that I am here and very much on the ground – not hiding in an underground bunker. These rumors tend to abound every once in a while to undermine the morale of the Syrian people. I neither live on a Russian warship nor in Iran. I live in Syria in the same place I have always lived.
Question: As you know, in the last meeting of the Arab League, the seat of the Syrian Arab Republic was given to the opposition and the discussion was opened about your legitimacy. Does that mean that your legitimacy has been withdrawn through this act of giving the seat of the Syrian Arab Republic to the opposition and the fact that you are no longer represented in the Arab League?
President Assad: Frankly speaking, the Arab League itself lacks legitimacy. It is an organization which represents Arab states and not Arab peoples. It has lacked legitimacy for many years, due to the fact that these Arab states themselves and their different positions do not reflect the will and the interests of the Arab peoples. Even when we were part of the Arab League, we were aware of this. Therefore this League is not in a position to give legitimacy or withdraw it. The step taken was more symbolic than anything else to create an illusion of illegitimacy.
Real legitimacy cannot be granted from either international organizations, officials outside your country or from other states. The Syrian People alone have the authority to grant or withdraw legitimacy. If they withdraw it, then you become illegitimate. And similarly if they give you their support, then you are a legitimate president. Everything else is meaningless shenanigans as far as we are concerned.
Question: There are decisions, measures and actions taken against your country by some Arab countries and in the western world. On the other hand, the BRICS countries, which are observing the developments in Syria, have taken decisions different from those taken by the Arab countries and the western countries. How do you evaluate the activities, policies and the decisions of the BRICS countries.
President Assad: What you mentioned in your question emphasizes an important point. From the outset, the conflict in Syria was not entirely domestic. There are internal Syrian dynamics at play, but the underlying issues today are more directed towards redrawing the map of the region, and the conflicting interests of the great powers. The creation of the BRICS bloc means that the United States will no longer remain the only global power in the world. Today there are partners whose views and interests cannot be ignored when decisions and actions are taken in the international arena.
The BRICS group does not support President Bashar al-Assad or the Syrian state. It supports stability in this region. Everyone knows that if the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country or if the terrorist forces take control of Syria, or both of the above, the situation will inevitably first spill over into neighboring countries and then create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond – East, West, North and South. This will lead to a state of instability for years and maybe decades to come. On these grounds the BRICS group supported the political solution in Syria against western powers.
As for some of the Arab or regional leaders which stood against Syria, it is well known that most of these countries are not independent in their political decisions. They act on foreign diktats. Internally, they might support a political solution, but when they are given their orders by the west, they must comply. Broadly speaking this is the reality across the region and internationally.
Question: Mr President, for the past two years we have witnessed conflict in Syria, armed conflict inside Syria. This conflict is supported on the one hand by the United States, France, Turkey and some Gulf countries. These countries say that the people are fighting your regime, and more than a hundred countries have stated that you should step down. On that background, are you thinking of stepping down and allowing someone else to replace you?
President Assad: Your question implies that a large number of western states and their allies, including Turkey and a number of Arab countries are against this President. At the same time you are implying that his people are also against him; so, how does he still remain in office? How can Syria remain steadfast for two years? I am not bothered by foreign countries being against me; I am a president elected by the Syrian people. We can conclude that for a president to take office or leave office is a National Syrian decision to be taken only by the Syrian people and not by the states which call for that.
Are these states concerned about democracy in Syria or concerned about the blood of the Syrian people? Let’s be candid. If we start with the United States, we find that it has supported the crimes committed by Israel for decades, since Israel was created in our region. The United States committed massacres in Afghanistan and Iraq resulting in millions being killed, wounded or disabled. France and Britain committed massacres in Libya, with support and cover from the United States. The current Turkish government is knee-deep in Syrian blood. Again are these states really concerned about Syrian blood?
The issue of the President will always remain for the Syrian people to decide and no other country in the world has anything to do with it.
Question: You said that what is taking place in Syria is mainly supported from outside, but we are in Damascus and we can hear the sounds of explosions and there is always the sound of shelling at different distances. Why is this happening in Syria?
President Assad: We are surrounded by a group of countries which are helping terrorists enter into Syria. Of course, not all of these countries are doing this intentionally. For instance, Iraq is against allowing terrorists access to Syria, but it has certain circumstances which do not allow it to fully
control its borders. In Lebanon, the situation is divided with some parties supporting and others opposing sending terrorists into Syria. Turkey officially harbors these terrorists and sends them into Syria. Some terrorists enter Syria through Jordan and it is not clear whether that is intentional or not. As long as these terrorists continue to be smuggled into the country, we will continue to fight against them – this is only normal. It is actually a war in every sense of the word. These are not merely separate and dispersed security incidents. Terrorists are entering Syria in their thousands, and maybe in tens of thousands, it is difficult to set a precise figure. So, it is quite realistic to hear the sound of battles in many Syrian regions.
Question: Mr President, you said that the Turkish government officially and publicly supports the terrorists and provides different kinds of assistance to those terrorist groups, but we know that quite recently you used to enjoy good and friendly relations with Erdogan and the Turkish government. What happened and pushed things to this situation?
President Assad: Maybe Erdogan saw in the events taking place in the Arab world an opportunity for him to prolong his political life. This man’s mentality is that of the Muslim Brotherhood, and from our experience in Syria with the Muslim Brotherhood for over 30 years, they are a group of opportunists, who use religion for their personal advantage. He saw that the countries that witnessed revolutions or coup d’états or foreign interventions brought in groups belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood to power. So, he saw in that a great opportunity for him to remain in power in different forms for many years to come. He turned against Syria because he saw a personal opportunity to remain in power. In the beginning, he tried to interfere in internal Syrian affairs. Even before the crisis, Erdogan was more interested in the Muslim Brotherhood than he was in Syrian-Turkish relations and even more than his interest in Turkey itself. This is the way this person thinks. When these circumstances occurred, he decided to stand by his personal interests and put them before Syrian/Turkish interests. As I said, he tried to interfere in Syrian internal affairs and later this Turkish government started to support the terrorists publically in Syria. They have became deeply involved in the bloodshed in Syria. It is only realistic in this situation for relations to be severed between us.
Question: When we ask Mr. Erdogan about what happened to the Syrian-Turkish relations, he claims that he was honest with President Bashar al-Assad and offered him proposals about reform, but President al-Assad rejected these proposals. Why didn’t you take into account the proposals made to you by Mr. Erdogan?
President Assad: Regrettably, Erdogan has never uttered a single truthful word since the crisis in Syria began. None whatsoever and I’m not exaggerating. The proposals he put forward were very general to the effect that the Syrian people should decide who should be president and what type of political system should govern them. I had previously spoken about these proposals in much more depth in many of my addresses.
We are currently in the midst of preparing for a National dialogue in which all the political groups in Syria will meet and decide on the best way forward. No matter how important Erdogan’s proposals, they will not be more important than what the Syrian people want. Can there be anything more important than this? Whatever the Syrian people decide will be implemented.
There is however a simple question that we should ask. If Erdogan claims that he put forward proposals to solve the problem in Syria, then what is the relationship between those proposals and supporting the armed groups? Today, Erdogan is recruiting armed groups with Qatari financing, providing them with weapons, medical equipment and other logistical support on Turkish territory, and then sending them into Syria. Was this proposal part of those which he presented to me, or were those proposals a mere facade which he used in order to reach his objectives.
He knows that we supported dialogue; from day one, we announced that we
agreed to conduct a dialogue with all Syrian parties. When the first stage, which was often referred to as ‘the peaceful stage’ failed, they shifted gear and started to support the armed groups. Erdogan lies and uses those proposals as a mask; we accept advice from any party, but we do not, under any circumstances, accept intervention in internal Syrian affairs. It seems that Erdogan misunderstood our position; he understood that the brotherly relations between Syria and Turkey allow him to interfere in internal Syrian affairs with the objective of overthrowing the Syrian state. But the situation was clear to me from the very early days.
Question: There are news stories in some media channels in Turkey to the effect that there are Turkish officers and security services personnel involved in the terrorist acts and help the terrorist organizations, that they entered the Syrian territories and they were involved in direct activities in support of these terrorist organizations. Some media say that Syria will respond in kind against Turkey as long as Turkey is involved to this degree in these operations. What do you say to all these claims?
President Assad: As I said, the present Turkish government is directly contributing to the killing of the Syrian people. Some people expect Syria to retaliate but we will not do it. Firstly we are against crime and therefore we reject criminal acts. Secondly, we believe the Turkish people are a brotherly people. Thirdly, this is what Erodgan wants; he wants to create a conflict between the peoples of Syria and Turkey, in order for him to get popular support for his policies and restore some of his popularity. We will not fall into this trap for both considerations of principle and because our interest lies with the Turkish people. A conflict between our two peoples will not be in the interest of either Syria or Turkey; it will only make things more complicated. What we have done in the past 10 or 12 years since President Cezar visited Syria in 2000 was to annihilate the bad history between the Arabs and the Turks. Now Erdogan is trying to jeopardize it. We will not commit any act against the Turkish people.
As for the Turkish intelligence services, up until this point, we have not captured any member of the Turkish intelligence services or the Turkish army. This doesn’t mean that they are not involved; the intelligence services are providing support from outside Syria. They provide all the training, the equipment, the communications and other forms of political and media support as required. From the confessions of many terrorists, we know that there are individuals in Turkey who are involved, but the basic principle of this involvement lies in the policy adopted by the current Turkish government. The fact that there is no intelligence personnel on the ground does not mean they are not involved.
Question: Your statements, Mr President, have been clear concerning Turkish polices. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said “I would rather resign my position than shake the hand of President al-Assad if he remained in power.” What does that say about the relations between the two countries.
President Assad: I am not going to dignify that with a response. Suffice to say that I was given an appropriate upbringing in my home and clearly this is not true in his case.
In the way he speaks, he does not embody the high moral standards of the Turkish people, which I witnessed all too clearly during my visits to Turkey. I, on the other hand, have learned from the high moral standards of the Syrian people, and hence I do not feel the need to respond.
As to the bridges, my relationship with Erdogan was meant to be reflected on the Syrian-Turkish relations. But when the Prime Minister, his government, or members of his government are involved in the bloodshed in Syria, these bridges have no place, neither between us, nor between them and the Syrian people who have no respect for them at all.
Question: As you might have noticed, when President Barack Obama was in Israel, suddenly Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he apologized to Turkey concerning what happened on the Marmara ship. How do you read all these developments?
President Assad: There is a clear and obvious question in such a situation. The same person, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was Prime Minister when the Marmara massacre took place 3 years ago, he is still Prime Minister today. Why didn’t he apologize during these past years? What has changed? Erdogan is the same and Netanyahu is the same. What has changed is the situation in Syria. This confirms very clearly and precisely that there is a Turkish-Israeli agreement over the situation in Syria. This also confirms that Erdogan is now in alliance with Israel in order to aggravate the situation in Syria. Erdogan failed in the past two years to achieve his objectives in mobilizing Turkish public opinion concerning Syria to his satisfaction and he also failed in achieving the collapse of the Syrian state; Syria was steadfast despite the ferocious battles. He had no ally to help him except Israel and Israel is our obvious enemy who occupies our land. I believe this is a clear indicator of the alliance between them, at the same time, maybe this apology also helps Erdogan restore some of his status and credibility which he had also lost inside Turkey.
Question: I want to pick up on something which happened in the recent past. There has been a meeting between Erdogan and Ocalan on March 21st. During that meeting the two sides talked about the formation of a new Middle East consisting of Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds and Turks. Have you followed these meetings and statements?
President Assad: What we have at the moment is the information available through the media. We have not received official details from any party as of yet. Since the initial steps taken in Turkey a few years ago to solve the Kurdish problem, our declared position has been to support any solution between the Turks and the Kurds because we do not want to see more bloodshed
in Turkey which will no doubt have a negative impact on the region. Any genuine solution in this direction has our support, because the Kurdish
people are a natural part of the fabric of the region. They are not guests or new immigrants; they have been living in these lands for centuries, for thousands of years. But the vision for the solution of the Turkish-Kurdish relations depends on the credibility of Erdogan. I don’t trust this person, and I doubt that he will fulfill his promises. All the steps he is taking are temporary measures aimed at winning him political support. Here again we ask the same question. Why didn’t he take the same steps a few years ago? Again, this is related to the Syrian situation. But let’s not prejudge the situation. Let’s wait and see.
Question: You said that finding a solution to the Kurdish problem is one of the important issues for the region. Can we hear from your Excellency a broader vision and in detail about how we can solve this issue?
President Assad: We need to be clear, nationalism is different from ethnicity. We live in a mixed region; the fact that you are Turkish doesn’t mean that you can’t be Kurdish or Armenian or Arab in origin with your own culture and language. This is the situation in Turkey as well as in Syria. When I say Arab, it is not necessarily linked to an Arab ethnicity or race. Both nationalisms, Turkish and Arab, exemplify highly civilised and all encompassing nationalistic models that are meant to be inclusive of everybody.
The problem with this concept in the past, was perhaps that the adopted mentality was one of rejecting and eliminating other cultures. I believe the most beautiful aspect of this region is its diversity and the most dangerous aspect is for us not to see this diversity as enriching and empowering. When we regard it as a weakness, we invite foreign forces to play us against each other and create conflicts.
This was the case at the beginning of the last century when the conflict started between the Arabs and the Turks during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the Arab nationalist groups wanted Arab nationalism within the Ottoman Empire. However things moved towards conflict as a result of mistakes made by both the Turks and the Arabs as well as the result of intervention from foreign players.
That’s why we need to look at the situation today in the same way; we are made from the same fabric weaved from many different colours.
Question: Mr President, one of the most important issues being discussed currently in Turkey is the question of the PKK. There are discussions about organizations operating on Syrian territories which are cooperating with the PKK and that the PKK has great influence over these organizations. They say that this organization is interested in creating a military vacuum in northern Syria so that it can be filled by these new Kurdish forces. How do you read all these reports, Mr President?
President Assad: When there is chaos in any state, as is the case in Syria at the moment, certain groups are bound to appear in order to fill the vacuum created. Sometimes these groups are gangs with the only purpose of killing and stealing. Sometimes these are political groups, and other times they might be parties with certain policies. There’s no doubt that there are some groups which seek separation; they exist in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and
other places. But we cannot generalize this situation to include all Kurds based on the agenda of small groups. Most Kurds are patriotic people who want to live in Syria. So, the emergence of certain cases should not lead us to generalize the situation or even to assume that things are moving towards separation. Separation needs a certain environment, be it widespread public support or external factors, which is very different from the circumstances prevailing in Syria at the moment. I’m not concerned about this issue at the moment.
Question: Mr President, this is a very important issue. Since the beginning of the events in Syria, certain parties and research centers started to talk about a new project involving the separation of northern Syria, northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey and separating these regions from their central states. Do you think there is a danger of northern Syria separating from the central state?
President Assad: As I said, the current circumstances in Syria are not conducive in this respect particularly in terms of public opinion at large. This notion of separation is completely rejected by the Syrian people and the Syrian state; no sovereign state accepts for a part of its territory to be cut out or separated from its mainland. This position is categorically unacceptable and is not subject to any discussions with us in Syria.
Question: Based on our questions and your answers, there seems to be a clear plan put forward by western countries in cooperation and coordination with some regional countries to create a greater Kurdistan by separating northern Iraq, western Iran, northern Syria and southeastern Turkey. They seemed determined to achieve this goal. Are we moving in the direction of achieving this goal?
President Assad: I don’t believe that the four states in question – Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq – would agree to this proposition. Independent states in today’s world seek integration rather than separation. Unfortunately our region is an exception which is a sign of backwardness. Today, large countries come together, the BRICS being an example. States seek to come together and form larger blocs because this is a requirement in the age we live in. So, why should we go in the opposite direction in our region and seek fragmentation? What is there to prevent people who belong to different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and sects to live with each other? Therefore if we accept the notion of separation then this means we have to live with the consequences – namely fragmentation into small mini-states based on ethnicities and sects in an area that is extremely rich in its diversity; this creates a dangerous situation that would precipitate wars in the future. This is why I don’t think that this is a sound proposition. Every one of these four concerned states should do its utmost to make sure all its people feel that they are first-class citizens with equal stakes in their state. This solution is therefore, clear and simple. On the other hand, when a citizen feels that he is second or third class, he is bound to think of separation or even act against his own state.
Question: You used to have an interesting project, Mr President. You talked about the political and economic unification of the five seas and the countries lying among these seas. How can we benefit from such a project? Can you please explain that to the Turkish audience?
President Assad: This is what I meant when I said that in this age we need to unify. This doesn’t mean becoming a single state in the same way that old states existed in the past, in large extended empires. Today we can unify through our interests at least. For instance, we can build railways, different forms of land transport, gas, oil, electricity, all forms of energy, hence creating networks between our countries in this extremely strategic region of the world which lies between the five seas. This in itself will bring a lot of investment into the region, creating a great deal of prosperity and making these states and their peoples strong enough to face any foreign intervention.
This vision needs will and independent decision-making, especially since many western states have no interest in the creation of such projects in the Middle East. This also needs security and stability. I don’t believe that the right conditions exist now for such a project, because there are problems in Syria, in Lebanon, unrest in Iraq, most of which are a result of western intervention; there is a government in Turkey, which I don’t consider to be independent or to have such a vision, and Turkey is essential for this project due to its strategic position. This doesn’t mean that we should cancel this project. It should remain in our minds, because the future of this region depends on grand projects like this. If we each remain confined within our national borders, we will be considered small on a global scale, even large countries such as Turkey and Iran. We cannot be powerful unless we create such strategic trans-border projects.
Question: Mr President, based on your answer to my question, I want to move to another issue which is related to sectarian war. There seems to be a Sunni-Shiite war going on in the region and many people are talking about this. Do you see these conflicts as sectarian by nature?
President Assad: This issue was first raised in 1979 on the backdrop of the Iranian revolution which removed one of America’s most important allies in the region. The only solution was to portray that revolution as a Shiite revolution and that other sects should oppose it. On those grounds, the Iraq war against Iran was invented and supported by some Gulf countries. A short while later, the Muslim Brothers in Syria were used for the same objective, in order to create sectarian strife. They failed in the first and the second attempt.
Now, three decades later, there’s no other choice but to create sectarian strife within these countries. That’s why they have raised this issue again and the slogans chanted, particularly in the early days of the Syrian crisis, were sectarian in their substance. So far, they have failed. Had they succeeded the whole region would have been fragmented as a result of this conflict. The positive aspect in all of this, is the increasing public awareness against sectarian ideologies, despite the fact that there are some sectarian pockets which reflect an underlying ignorance which is usually present in every society.
I believe that the essence of the conflict now is not sectarian. The conflict is between forces and states seeking to take their peoples back into historic times, and between states wanting to take their peoples into a prosperous future. It is a conflict between those who want their homeland and their state to be independent from the west and between those which seek to be satellites of western powers only to achieve their particular interests. At the same time, these forces are part of an international struggle of conflicting interests of which Turkey and Syria are a part. This struggle has been affected by different factors which might lead to the fragmentation of the region, enabling global powers to control our destiny and future.
Question: Nevertheless, outside Syria, in some countries, policies of division and fragmentation based on ethnicities and sects are being officially adopted. On the other hand, we lived and witnessed what you have been talking about in Turkey, particularly after the secular republic was created and led by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. Unfortunately, however, these states and governments have distanced themselves from this project and started to adopt religious and sectarian projects. How do you see the future of these political systems?
President Assad: These political systems and establishments which are seeking division and fragmentation are preparing for wars which might last for centuries rather than decades in our region – destroying everything, preventing development and prosperity, and taking us back to life in the Middle Ages. This is very dangerous.
When I refer to secularism, I’m speaking about the freedom of religions and religious practices. Our region is primarily conservative, most people are religious and they should have the freedom to practice their religious rituals. We shouldn’t think for a moment that there is contradiction between ethnicities and religions. This is the essence of our thinking about secularism. This is why we should always aim to unify the people in our region. As I mentioned earlier no matter what happens between the governments in Syria and Turkey, it should not affect the relations between the peoples of our countries which constitutes the only guarantee for our unity as diverse and rich societies.
Question: Mr President, do you follow closely the developments in Turkey?
President Assad: This is in keeping with the norm. Because what happens within Turkey as both a neighboring and large country with its strategic position, will reflect directly on what happens inside Syria. At the same time there are so many similarities: the nature of the people, their emotions and the makeup of the social fabric in Turkey are very similar to those in Syria. So again, what happens in Turkey will have an impact on Syria. That’s why we believe that stability in Turkey is in our best interest, and vice versa, if you have turbulences, we will be affected. The challenge is how to convince the Turkish officials in the current government, particularly the Prime Minister, that the fire in Syria will burn in Turkey. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see this reality.
Question: Concerning dialogue with the opposition. You called for a political solution and for direct dialogue with the opposition. Are there red lines for this dialogue?
President Assad: The red lines are foreign intervention. Any dialogue should be a Syrian dialogue only. No foreign intervention is allowed in this dialogue. Other than this, there are no red lines. Syrian citizens can discuss anything they want, because Syria is the homeland for all Syrians and they can discuss anything they want. There are no red lines.
Question: In the framework of a sectarian conflict, there are claims which appear on TV stations and some other media outlets to the effect that Syria is ruled by a dictatorial Alawite regime whose only objective is to eliminate the Sunna; and even the assassination of Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti comes within this effort. What is your response to such claims?
President Assad: I referred at the beginning to the diversity of this region of which Syria is a part and has been living in stability for many decades without any internal problems. How can it be stable without a government that constitutes a mirror image of its people? When a government in any country, is dominated by one or more groups of people, and is therefore not reflective of the whole population it cannot survive. It will either fall in no time or the country as a whole will fall. These claims are therefore not true. We have been living together in this country for hundreds of years; and the government has always reflected the diversity of the people and their participation in its affairs. As for the late Dr al-Bouti, it is ridiculous to accuse the Syrian government of his assassination. This accusation has been made by the same groups who were accusing him, only days and weeks before, of being the mouthpiece of the authorities on religious affairs. This was done in order to marginalise his popularity amongst the Syrian people and his followers in the Muslim world. In fact, he was not a mouthpiece for the authorities as they describe him. He never sought any kind of authority; he never wanted to be a minister or a mufti; he never asked for any money; he used to live a simple life. His only fault was that he was at the forefront of a group of religious leaders who stood decisively in the face of the plot to create sectarian strife amongst Syrians. Dr al-Bouti was at the forefront, firstly because of his status in Syria and the Muslim world, and secondly because of his deep awareness and understanding of the truth of what was happening. There is no doubt that the stances of these religious leaders, and among them Dr al-Bouti, was crucial in foiling this attempt to create sectarian strife. That is why they assassinated Dr al-Bouti, as well as other religious leaders, one as recently as a few days ago in Aleppo. Everybody who spoke about true religion, about tolerance and moderation in religion was targeted from the beginning of the crisis, no doubt Dr al-Bouti had the greatest effect when confronting this war. He didn’t stand with the state, he stood with his nation and therefore paid the price with his life. In any case, he always spoke of his readiness for martyrdom.
Question: Thank you Mr President for granting this interview to Ulusal TV station. Finally, is there anything else you want to say to the Turkish people?
President Assad: We are now at a crucial juncture in history. By this I mean Syria, Turkey and the whole region. Even though some of the changes happening in our region have some spontaneous elements they also contain many externally planned elements with the objective of controlling this region. What is happening now is essentially similar to what happened a hundred years ago in terms of re-dividing the region. But a hundred years ago, we accepted the division as it was drawn by Sykes and Picot when they drew the borders for you, for us and for others in this region. This time, however, we shouldn’t accept any redrawing of the region except in accordance with decisions suitable to us as peoples living in this region. We should be the people who take the decision. Unfortunately, this vision is lacking for many of the governments which accepted to act in accordance with foreign diktats, or at least to please western countries in particular.
That’s why we see in the past two years, there have been many attempts to destroy the relationship between the Turkish and Syrian peoples. I want to say that what we have started twelve years ago with President Cezar should continue under all circumstances, by this I mean the Turkish-Arab brotherhood. This cannot be achieved if Syrian-Turkish relations are not good, because, along with Iraq, we are the closest Arab country to Turkey. So we should continue to move in this direction and as I said prosperity in any country will be reflected on the other. By the same token, fire in either country will also spill over into the other. Governments come and go, they do not stay forever. That’s why we shouldn’t allow governments and officials, especially foolish and inexperienced officials, to undermine this relationship which should be built by us and not by any foreign power. This is my message to the Turkish people and once again I am happy to receive you today.
Question: Thank you very much, Mr President.
President Assad: Once again thank you, and please convey my best wishes to the staff of Ulusal TV and Aydinlik newspaper.

Why do Arab rulers want a ceasefire in Gaza but not in Syria?

Why do Arab rulers want a ceasefire in Gaza but not in Syria?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Deconstructing cruelty in Arab societies
On average, over one hundred people, many of whom are civilians, have died every day in Syria for the past 20 months. The Syrian government says that it is fighting terrorists financed by Arab rulers and the Turkish Islamist government. The rebels say they are fighting a non-democratic regime. Nearly twenty other Arab rulers govern without a public mandate. The rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar insist that Bashar Assad step down or be removed by force because the Syrian people want him gone. Yet, they ignore the fact that the Arab peoples want them all gone, not just Assad.

For just five days now, Israel and Gaza armed groups have exchanged fire that has resulted in 70 people dead (67 Palestinians and 3 Israelis), over 600 hundred Palestinians wounded, and hundreds of homes and buildings destroyed. Since the firing of the first missile, the Arab rulers have pressed Egypt and Turkey to mediate a ceasefire and called on world leaders and international organizations to act “to stop Israeli aggression.”  The Qatari ruler, the main supplier of deadly weapons to Syrian militias, headed to Egypt to press President Morsi to help end the violence in Gaza. So what gives? Are Arab rulers finally giving up on violence and embracing peace?

While some countries, including Russia and China, called for a ceasefire in Syria, the majority of Arab rulers threw their support behind a newly formed body called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SNCORF). The latter vowed to continue to fight the regime and insisted that it would not negotiate or accept a ceasefire until Assad is ousted and all his security forces are dismantled. Days before that, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s proposed three-day ceasefire to allow for peaceful celebration of a religious holiday was not honored. In contrast, just five days after the start of the recent flare of violence in Gaza, the Arab rulers are suddenly eager to talk peace. They are calling on world leaders to pressure Israel to agree to a ceasefire.

The Arab rulers’ double standard is robbing them of any credibility they had left. They are increasingly seen to be trading with civilian blood to achieve their political goals. Importantly, they are inculcating a racist message when they suggest that the lives and dignity of Arabs can be abused by other Arabs but not by Jews and non-Arabs. They cry foul when Israel attacks armed groups, but they supply Islamist groups with deadly arms that prolong a civil war in Syria. They want the world to believe that Israel is an “aggressor” because it caused the death of 67 civilians, yet they are arming warring factions in Syrian to prolong a war that killed nearly 50,000 people. The Arab rulers need to be reminded that victimhood, like aggression, does not have a nationality, a race, or a religion. A victim is a victim regardless of the identity of the abusers, and oppression is oppression regardless of the identity of the oppressed.

Arab rulers are using the plight of the Palestinians to score political points, and they are vilifying Jews for the same acts of cruelty Arabs inflict on each other. They want the Gaza war to end so that it does not expose their impotence. They want the Syrian war to continue because it serves their narrow sectarian and nationalistic interests. They also want the Gaza war to end so that they are not asked to arm the Palestinian groups with the same weapons they are sending to the Syrian Islamists. The double standard Arab rulers have adopted exposes their hypocrisy, shortsightedness, and supremacist attitudes.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

U.S. Middle East foreign policy needs upgrade

U.S. Middle East foreign policy needs upgrade

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Map: Syria and Iran

The third presidential debate in the United States’ race focused on foreign policy. In reality, there was no real debate. It was an argument between two candidates about which one of them would apply policies that are already in place better than the other. Granted that a sitting president would not want to challenge his own policy, it was Mitt Romney’s responsibility to offer a fresh paradigm.

However, Governor Romney was clearly out of his comfort zone when talking about foreign policy. Considering that two-thirds of the entire debate was devoted to the Middle East and the Islamic world, I expected an exciting and informative debate. However, I lost hope in hearing a substantive discussion of the Middle East policy when I heard Governor Romney say that, “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” Even after years of teaching courses about the Middle East to young men and women who had just graduated high school, I cannot recall seeing so many errors in so short of a statement.

First, Romney seems to imply that Iran is isolated in the region (the Arab world), a common mistake. Iran is not an Arab country. the majority of Iranians are not ethnically Arab, and they do not speak Arabic. Their  connections to Arabic is the Arabic script they use to write their language, Persian, which is Indo-European. In fact, linguistically speaking, Persian is closer to English and other Germanic languages than it is to Arabic. Like the majority of Arabs, they are also Muslims. But even their religion is disputed by Arab Sunni puritans from Saudi Arabia who label them Shiite rafidis (rejecters of faith).

Second, Iran now has Iraq as a close ally–which is holding the rotating leadership of the Arab League. It also had deep economic, military, and political relations with Sudan since the 1990s. It recently upgraded its relations with Mauritania and Algeria. Even in the Gulf Region, Iran maintains special relations with the Sultanate of Oman.

Third, Iran and Syria share no borders. If Governor Romney were keeping up with the events of that region, he would have known of the administration’s criticism of Iraq’s government for allegedly allowing Iran to use its airspace to transfer weapons to Syria. If Iran had any shared borders with Syria, it would not have needed to use Iraq’s airspace to reach Syria. Deductive and inductive reasoning aside, Governor Romney should know the geography of a region so critical to U.S.’s interests, especially given that he sees Iran as the biggest threat to U.S. security.

Fourth, both Syria and Iran have direct access to the sea. Neither of them needs the other to get access to the sea. Parts of Syrian’s western border opens onto the Mediterranean Sea. Iran’s south western border opens onto the Persian Gulf which leads to the Indian Ocean and to the waters beyond.

Criticizing Governor Romney for lack of knowledge about a critical region such as the Middle East does not absolve President Obama. Foreign policy cannot and should not be judged by the soundness of the opponent’s relative erudition about the subject. It ought to be judged by the absolute level of the challenge a region poses: the higher the challenge the higher the standard.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s current foreign policy in the Middle East, too, is not adapting quickly enough to the changes taking place in that part of the world. As a candidate five years ago, he promised to adopt new approaches to dealing with the Islamic world for example. With his first term in office ending in a couple of months, the U.S. is still entangled in wars, relying on sanctions, and depending on dictators to preserve its influence in the region. The U.S. foreign policy is still stuck in the Soviet Union Era. If re-elected, he ought to raise the standard. He ought to overhaul U.S. foreign policy before the “80’s asks for it back,” to paraphrase one of his “zingers.”

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

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