Diplomatic options opening for U.S. in Syria and Iran

Sept. 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- The United States has more room for diplomacy with Iran and Syria as Syria faces deadlines to account for and surrender its chemical weapons, U.S. advisers say.

Advisers to President Obama note that Syria doesn't have a lot of wiggle room concerning ceding its chemical weapons to international control -- or risk losing the support of Russia, one of Syria's last allies, The New York Times reported.

The road to diplomacy has been potholed, advisers told the Times, and has come about with an unusual cast: Syria's President Bashar Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's mullahs. But, the officials say, the potential outcome demonstrates the success of the administration's selective use of coercion.

"The common thread is that you don't achieve diplomatic progress in the Middle East without significant pressure," Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told the Times Thursday. "In Syria, it was the serious threat of a military strike; in Iran it was a sanctions regime built up over five years."

Also in the mix is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Skeptics, however, said they think Obama runs the risk of being pulled into long negotiations over Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles that would keep things at the status quo.

"These two situations are deeply intertwined," Dennis B. Ross, who was Obama's lead adviser on Iran early in his presidency and who argued for attacking Syria after the Aug. 21 nerve gas attacks that killed more than a thousand civilians, said of Syria and Iran. "If the Syrians are forced to give up their weapons, it will make a difference to the Iranian calculation," and would raise the prospects of some deal with Tehran."

"If the Syrians can drag this out and give up just a little, that will send a very different message to the supreme leader," Ross said.

If a diplomatic scenario bears fruit, how it was reached won't matter to most, Obama's longtime political strategist David Axelrod told the Times Thursday.

"If he gets this right in the ninth inning, no one will remember what the fourth and fifth inning looked like," Axelrod said.

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