The second round of the Geneva II conference on the Syrian conflict opens Monday, Feb. 10 – this time with a seat at the table for the Iranian delegation provided by Washington, DEBKAfile reports exclusively. Washington relayed this abrupt turnabout from its ban last week on Iranian representatives to the Tehran delegates quietly attending the secret alternative conference taking place unannounced in Bern.
This event has proceeded in parallel to the public gathering in Montreux with the participation of Assad regime and opposition delegates, as well as senior US, Iranian and Russian officials. It was there that the real business was contracted behind closed doors – not in Montreux, where rigid official positions were presented for public consumption as a decoy from the Bern meeting, for which the Swiss government rather than the UN had provided the necessary technical and logistic facilities.
The Bern channel was first revealed in the last DEBKA Weekly issue, No. 621 of Jan. 31.
Permission to admit Iran to the Bern parley marked another major Obama administration concession to Tehran. For the first time, Iran delegates took their seats around an international conference table alongside the major powers with a say on political and strategic decisions for a critical Mid East conflict.
This basic shift was evinced, according to our sources, Tuesday, Feb. 4 in Washington and in Moscow.
Appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Director of Intelligence James Clapper admitted that the agreement to dismantle the Syrian chemical weapons, reached last year in Geneva by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, had “actually strengthened Bashar Assad’s position… by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons.”
In the space of a week, Washington has gone back on the forceful statement Kerry made at the opening of the Geneva conference on Jan. 16, when he said “as we get into this process, it will become clear there is no political solution whatsoever if Assad is not discussing a transition and if he thinks he is going to be part of that future. It is not going to happen”
The Obama administration is now forced to act on the presumption of a stronger Bashar Assad – as registered by Clapper, meaning that in order to be realistic, there is no option but to accept the Syrian ruler’s strong standing in Damascus and Tehran and the unavoidable conclusion that Iran is vitally instrumental to any resolution of the Syrian conflict.
Few people even in Israel noticed the telling comment made last week by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s special emissary to Tehran, Jibril Rajoub. He said after talking to Iranian officials that Tehran must be part of the negotiating process ongoing between the Palestinians and Israel, clearly speaking under the influence of Iran’s enhanced position in the conference on Syria’s future.
In Moscow Tuesday, Lavrov, standing with Ahmad Jarba, leader of the oppsoition Syrian National Coalition, said “there was no doubt that Syrian opposition would attend” the second round of Geneva 2 next week.
This was after he had told Jarba privately, DEBKAfile’s sources report, that Iran must participate henceforth in the talks for there to be any chance of progress toward a resolution of the Syrian conflict.
None of this, or the admitted “roll-down” in the deal for eliminating Assad’s chemical arsenal, deterred Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the head of the US team at the nuclear negotiations with Iran, from explaining to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the interim nuclear agreement signed with Iran is “full of holes” because it is not a final agreement. “This is not perfect but this does freeze and roll back their program in significant ways and give us time on the clock to in fact negotiate that comprehensive agreement,” Sherman said.
The problem with this is that no one in Moscow, Tehran or Damascus has any doubt that the nuclear deals with the big powers will not turn out much differently from the agreement for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.