Saturday

25th Feb 2017

EU and US at odds over Iran's role in Syria

  • Mural on wall of former US embassy in Tehran (Photo: kamshots)

EU diplomats disagree with the US and Israel on whether Iran should join a Contact Group on Syria.

UN emissary Kofi Annan last week called for the formation of a body akin to the one which steered events in the Balkans in the 1990s or the one formed last year on Libya.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

An EU source told this website it should have an "inner circle" of five or six big powers - such as the EU, Russia, Turkey and the US - and an "outer circle" of 15-or-so other countries.

Its main tasks would be to stop the violence and to prepare for the day after President Bashar Assad falls.

The source said that without a post-Assad plan, the country risks becoming a "black hole" the way Iraq did after the US removed Saddam Hussein.

EU countries are currently holding talks on whether to call for Iran's inclusion.

For its part, the US says it should be kept out because it is helping Assad - its main ally in the region - to massacre his own people.

"Iran has not demonstrated to date a readiness to contribute constructively to a peaceful political solution," America's UN ambassador, Susan Rice, said last week.

The US is in a de facto state of war with Iran since 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the US embassy in Tehran. They have no diplomatic relations.

It is also Israel's enemy number one.

"It is naive to think Iran will play a constructive role [in the group]," a former Israeli intelligence chief told press and diplomats at a recent meeting in Brussels.

Several EU diplomats interviewed by EUobserver said Iran will be vital in getting Assad's security forces to play a part in a future transitional government, however.

"They do not want to see a years-long civil war, involving hostile Islamic radicals, on their doorstep," one contact said.

"It's hard to imagine [US secretary of state Hilary] Clinton sitting down with Iran to talk about the future of Syria. But in the wider picture, is a political solution in Syria possible without Iran?" another EU source noted.

'Cloaked in irrationality'

For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has had a taste of Iranian diplomacy in her role as chief negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks.

Commenting on how hard it was to agree a meaningful agenda for the nuclear meeting in Moscow on Monday (18 June), a member of her team said: "Its behaviour is sometimes very rational, but cloaked in irrationality."

Iran likes to keep the EU in the dark.

An EU diplomat based in Tehran said Iranian officials refuse to meet him: "EU diplomats in Iran basically talk to each other."

But the two sides have functional day-to-day relations.

The French, German and Swedish embassies in Tehran cultivate EU business interests. An EU diplomat in Afghanistan - a massive source of heroin - said: "Iran is doing more than Europe to stop drugs getting into Europe."

'What are you bringing?'

The price of making friends could be big: assurances that the West will not pursue regime change in Iran; legitimisation of its role as a regional power; no oil sanctions.

One senior official in Ashton's service predicted the US will get its way. "I don't think it will be possible to include them in the Contact Group," he said.

But for his part, the Tehran-based EU diplomat said the EU's open door with Iran is an important asset.

"It concerns the EU's post-Lisbon role in the world," he noted, referring to the Lisbon Treaty, which created Ashton's diplomatic corps in order to give the Union more collective influence.

"When you sit around the top table with the UN Security Council countries, the question is what are you bringing? The EU can bring its partnerships, the fact that it can talk to everybody," he said.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  2. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  3. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  4. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  5. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  6. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  7. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  8. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EURORDISJoin Rare Disease Day and Help Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  3. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  4. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  5. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  6. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  7. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  9. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  10. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations