Iranian president offers to broker peace in Syria

Iranian president offers to broker peace in Syria

In Washington Post op-ed, Rouhani says America's post-9/11 foreign policy has failed and should give way to 'constructive interaction'

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

Exploding mortar shells fill the sky with black smoke in Damascus, Syria, in September 2013. (photo credit: AP/United media office of Arbeen)
Exploding mortar shells fill the sky with black smoke in Damascus, Syria, in September 2013. (photo credit: AP/United media office of Arbeen)

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani said that his country wished to be involved in negotiating an end to “heartbreaking violence” in the civil war between the Syrian rebels and President Bashar Assad.

“We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates,” Rouhani wrote in an op-ed carried by The Washington Post Thursday. “As part of this, I announce my government’s readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.”

The opinion piece, essentially a plea for more regional cooperation interspersed with subtle jabs at the US for the supposed failure of its foreign policy, echoed some of the points recently made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also appealed directly to the American people in a widely circulated op-ed.

Rouhani’s proposal to enter the diplomatic fray vis-à-vis Syria comes amid increasing calls for dialogue toward curbing violence that has killed over 100,000 over two-and-a-half years of war. On Thursday, Syria’s deputy prime minister announced that the fighting had reached a stalemate and said Assad would call for dialogue at an upcoming conference.

“Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side,” Qadri Jamil told the Guardian. “This zero balance of forces will not change for a while.”

In his opinion piece, Rouhani reiterated that Iran “strongly condemns” the chemical attacks that spurred a Russia-brokered deal to remove and eventually destroy Assad’s chemical weapons. The uproar in the wake of a devastating August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus gave rise to that deal, as well as pervasive calls for dialogue between the Assad regime and the opposition.

That kind of dialogue, Rouhani hinted, stood in stark contrast to Washington’s tendency to wield force to influence regional conflicts. US foreign policy in the wake of the September 11 attacks, according to the Iranian president, had largely failed to attain its objectives.

“Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches,” he wrote. “Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences. More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc… In Iraq, 10 years after the American-led invasion, dozens still lose their lives to violence every day. Afghanistan endures similar, endemic bloodshed.

“The unilateral approach, which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of solving issues we all face, such as terrorism and extremism. I say ‘all’ because nobody is immune to extremist-fueled violence, even though it might rage thousands of miles away. Americans woke up to this reality 12 years ago.”

Addressing his country’s ongoing nuclear standoff with the West, Rouhani urged the US and its allies to engage in “constructive interaction” and focus not “on how to prevent things from getting worse [but] about how to make things better.”

Rouhani, who is considered by many to be more moderate than his combative predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is reported to have assented to a scaled-back nuclear program in exchange for reduced sanctions against his country. There have also been rumors of a possible meeting between him and Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a possibility that the White House has not ruled out.

Rouhani’s tone toward Israel has been less conciliatory.

In an interview with the NBC aired Thursday, he accused Israel of doing “injustice to the people of the Middle East and… [bringing] instability to the region with its war-mongering policies.”

Asked about criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Iran’s policies and plans, Rouhani said he didn’t understand how an “occupier” nation could be in a position to lecture another country.

Rouhani said Israel “shouldn’t allow itself to give speeches about a democratically and freely elected government.”

He sidestepped a question about whether the Holocaust was real. And he said that his authority is genuine and lasting, even though Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is known to control all matters of state, including nuclear.

Asked by network correspondent Ann Curry about statements that Ahmadinejad had made questioning the Holocaust, Rouhani said only, “I’m not a historian. I’m a politician. What is important for us is that the countries of the region and the people grow closer to each other and that they are able to prevent aggression and injustice.”

“What we wish for in this region is rule by the will of the people,” he said. “We believe in the ballot box. We do not seek war with any country. We seek peace and friendship among the nations of the region.”

In the wide-ranging question-and-answer session of which the first part was aired Wednesday night, Rouhani said that Iran has “never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

read more: