The Syrian opposition’s refusal to accept Iranian mediation with the Bashar Assad regime leads the news in the Arab media on Sunday, alongside reports on a terrorist attack in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi by African Islamists.
“The Syrian opposition rejects Rouhani’s mediation,” reads the headline in the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, quoting the Syrian National Coalition as calling the Iranian proposal to “ease” talks with the Assad regime “lacking in honesty” and “ridiculous.”
The paper also quotes Russian diplomat Sergei Ivanov as saying Saturday that Russia may remove its support of Assad if he deceives the world on the chemical-weapons issue.
The London-based daily Al-Hayat reports that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is studying the list of chemical-weapons sites submitted by the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera reports that rebel forces have achieved significant advances in the Aleppo area, including “a number of strategic locations.” The regime, the channel reports, perpetrated a massacre near Hama.
In an op-ed for Al-Hayat, Saudi columnist Jamal Khashaqji claims that Russia has begun adopting the international policy of deception characteristic of Iran.
“In its unconvincing maneuvers, ‘great’ Russia has begun playing international politics the ugly Iranian way. Last week it surprised the world with an initiative that seemed serious, based on international law and the Security Council, to strip the Syrian regime of chemical weapons in return for preventing a war looming on the horizon…. Days later [the initiative] began to deteriorate, appearing in the image of a small dictator who excels at lying and deceiving,” reads the daily.
“The Iranians mastered this policy, calling their neighbors to brotherly cooperation and then plotting against them. They speak about liberating Jerusalem… and then occupy Lebanon. As for the Russians, they talk of freeing the region and the world of Bashar’s chemical weapons, where in reality they wish to liberate Bashar and prolong the life of his regime. They destroy their relations with all countries in utter thuggery, as long as Bashar remains!”
What is Rouhani up to?
A number of editorials on Sunday try to evaluate the apparent moderation of Iran’s new president.
“Is Rouhani a sheep or a wolf?” wonders A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Abdul Rahman Rashed.
“Hasan Rouhani, the new Iranian president, continues to distribute his gifts [his rosy statements]. He waxed poetic in Saudi Arabia, saying it is a friendly and dear country, and that he intends to negotiate over the nuclear plan and end the dispute with the Western powers. He said he wishes to rectify the damage caused by his predecessor Ahmadinejad with the world, distancing himself from [Ahmadinejad's] denial of the Holocaust and congratulating the Israelis on the Jewish New Year!
“Rouhani’s Iran may only be a poetic dream in the head of the new president, or it may be a malicious propaganda machine intended to enable Iran to implement its remaining projects that caused its isolation. He wants to remove Iran’s economic sanctions and dismantle the siege on his allies, like Assad in Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
“Personally, I highly doubt Rouhani’s ability, and perhaps his intention, to change the course of the Iranian regime, which is involved up to its ears in a hostile policy towards the Gulf and the West. We see the [Iranian] regime cornered, and it will only grow more isolated as it moves closer to realizing its nuclear aspirations.”
Al-Hayat columnist Abdullah Iskandar claims that Rouhani has already succeeded in “breaking the ice” with the West; this is due not only to his intentions, but to the strategies of elements higher up in Iran’s decision-making establishment.
“Rouhani has succeeded in just a few months since his elections in breaking the ice of his country’s diplomacy toward the West and the United States, a task which his predecessor Mohammad Khatami failed to achieve during his eight years in office (1997-2005).
“It is not Rouhani’s reformist and open rhetoric toward the West that broke the ice of Iranian diplomacy. The matter surpasses the role of president and his wishes…. The decision to open up was taken at the level of the religious-military establishment, during the recent lean years of Ahmadinejad,” writes Iskandar.
“The question is: Why this flexibility now? The religious-military establishment in Iran has become convinced that the long years of rigidity and the diplomacy of defiance and threats have not caused a breakthrough internationally or regionally. On the contrary: The opposing international front only solidified, despite the best efforts of Russia and China, and the economic sanctions only increased.”