The Middle East Channel

G8 leaders pressure Russia to reach consensus on Syria

G8 leaders are working to find common ground on Syria on the last day of a summit in Northern Ireland on Tuesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has faced isolation refusing to abandon what he has referred to as the "legitimate" government of Syria. The United States has been working with Russia on planning a peace conference on Syria, but the countries have been at odds over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States, Britain, and France are hoping to agree to a five-point G8 plan on Syria, which includes a transition of power. Putin has maintained that it would be dangerous to remove Assad if there is no clear transition plan. However, according to one official, talks Monday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin went smoothly and some sort of consensus might be possible. Though, on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted saying Russia is against assertions that a peace conference "should be some kind of public act of capitulation by the government delegation followed by a handing over of power to the opposition." If an agreement is not reached at the G8 summit, the other seven members (the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, and Canada) may release a statement excluding Russia. Meanwhile, a large truck bomb reportedly killed an estimated 60 Syrian soldiers near the northern city of Aleppo. The rebel attack was one of its deadliest strikes against regime forces since the beginning of the uprisings. The attack came a day after a car bomb at a military checkpoint near Damascus killed about 20 people.

Headlines

  • Iranian President-Elect Hassan Rowhani pledged "more transparency" on the nuclear program but ruled out direct talks with the United States until it has stopped "interfering in Iran's domestic politics."
  • Turkish police detained dozens of people suspected of involvement in violence in anti-government protests raiding homes across the country on Tuesday, as demonstrators move to "standing man" protests.
  • Twin suicide bombings killed an estimated 29 people at a Shiite mosque in Baghdad Tuesday, the first outside the mosque at a nearby checkpoint, and the second inside the building targeting worshippers. 

Arguments and Analysis

Why Rouhani Won -- And Why Khamenei Let Him (Suzanne Maloney, Foreign Affairs)

"Four years ago, after the dubious reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian streets were filled with protestors demanding to know what had happened to their votes. This weekend, the voters finally got their answer -- and, once more, they filled the country's streets. This time, though, they were celebrating as the government confirmed that Hassan Rouhani, the presidential candidate who had campaigned on promises of reform and reopening to the world, had won an overwhelming victory.

The election of Rouhani, a centrist cleric who has been close to Iran's apex of power since the 1979 revolution, is an improbably auspicious end to the Ahmadinejad era. Rouhani is a blunt pragmatist with plenty of experience maneuvering within Iran's theocratic system. He is far too sensible to indulge in a power grab à la Ahmadinejad. And, as a cleric, he assuages the fears of the Islamic Republic's religious class. He embraced reformist rhetoric during the campaign, but will not deviate too far from the system's principles, the foremost of which is the primacy of the Supreme Leader. Meanwhile, Rouhani's focus on the economic costs of Ahmadinejad's mismanagement resonates with the regime's traditionalists as well as with a population battered by a decade of intensifying hardship and repression. All in all, the new president might benefit from a broader base of support than any in Iran's post-revolutionary history, which will be an important asset as he seeks to navigate the country out of isolation and economic crisis."

Why the Current Syria Policy Doesn't Make Sense (Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic)

"The fact of the matter, and one the administration seems intent on eliding, is that the only way to help the rebels regain the advantage and force the Assad regime to make real concessions is with a credible threat of military intervention through airstrikes against regime assets and the establishment of no-fly and no-drive zones. This will mean taking additional steps and slowly deepening our involvement, a result which some now fear is inevitable. Of course, the other argument -- eloquently advanced by Larison over the past year -- is that no vital interests are at stake and that the United States would be better staying out altogether. This latter argument, despite defining U.S. ‘interests' in extremely narrow terms, at least has the virtue of some internal consistency.

For those who supported the NATO operation in Libya -- perhaps the epitome of a non-interests-based intervention -- and past interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, the continued reluctance to entertain direct military action is more difficult to explain, although it no doubt has to do with the legacy of Iraq. Iraq is often mentioned by the administration as offering lessons for the present, although why Syria should be so analogous to Iraq, rather than say Libya or Bosnia, is rarely specified in any detail (Syria shares some of Iraq's sectarian features, but, to my knowledge, this was not the reason that so many felt the war was illegal, unnecessary, and based on false pretenses). Misplaced support for the Iraq war has led to an overcorrection in the opposite direction."

The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia (Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment)

"For much of the past two decades, dissent in the Eastern Province has reflected a mix of provincial economic neglect and political marginalization that often involves inflated notions of Shia deference to Iran. In addition, Shia activists have confronted a long-standing narrative presented by the royal family and its allies that the country's citizens are prone to tribal, sectarian, and Islamist passions and are therefore not ready for full democracy. Under this framework, the al-Saud fulfill the role of a benign mediator -- the glue that binds the fractious citizenry together. In response, Shia activists, along with a growing chorus of Sunni reformists, argue that it is precisely the lack of civil society and participatory governance that accounts for the chronic persistence of sectarianism and tribalism in Saudi society.

Saudi Arabia is a country beset by mounting political, economic, and demographic challenges. Sectarian discrimination certainly weighs heavily on the everyday lives of the Shia minority in the east. But many of the protesters' demands do not relate specifically to Shia rights. Rather, they encompass a range of goals that have long been advanced by reformists elsewhere in the country: the release of political prisoners, an elected Majlis al-Shura (consultative council), an independent judiciary, a constitution, and greater power for municipal councils. In this sense, it would be wrong to interpret dissent in the Eastern Province as a purely localized or narrowly Shia issue. Although the situation is certainly aggravated by sectarian discrimination, many of the underlying drivers of dissent afflict other parts of the kingdom, with varying degrees of severity."

--By Mary Casey and Joshua Haber 

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