GUARDIAN (UK), LE MONDE (France), AFP, ARUTZ SHEVA, JERUSALEM POST (Israel), RUSSIA TODAY, REUTERS
WASHINGTON — The Syrian crisis shifts in a new direction this week after President Barack Obama's announcement that he will seek Congressional approval for any U.S. intervention.
Following that news, Secretary of State John Kerry clarified that Obama had the right to take action on Syria "no matter what Congress does" when members return from recess on Sept. 9 to vote.
British newspaper the Guardian reports on Kerry's remarks made during a Sunday television appearance. Kerry explained that despite the British Parliament's rejection of a similar authorization vote on Thursday, he expects the American Congress to back the intervention. "We don't contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no," he said.
Barack Obama discusses the situation in Syria with his National Security Staff - Photo: Pete Souza/The White House/ZUMA
Meanwhile in France, AFP reports Monday that the government of President François Hollande will provide members of Parliament with the evidence gathered that it says proves Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the Aug. 21 chemical attack.
The French Parliament is scheduled to hold a debate Wednesday on the Syrian crisis, though it is not clear whether it will be followed by a vote. Hollande is facing increasingly intense pressure from the opposition to allow the Parliament to vote. Former Prime Minister and member of the center-right party UMP, François Fillon said: "I think that in certain circumstances France can't go to war without the clear support of Parliament." Other politicians from centrist parties and the far-left have also called for a parliamentary vote. UMP leader Jean-François Copé, who is in favor of striking, told Le Monde that Hollande had the right not to ask for a vote, but that would place full responsibility for French action on the shoulders of the president.
Obama's decision to put the Syrian question to a Congressional vote attracted intense criticism from Israel. Although the government made no official comment, Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman stated: "The hesitation and hypocrisy of America and the rest of the ‘free world’ confirms the suspicion that when it comes to maintaining the security of the state of Israel, we cannot rely on others and their promises, but we must be prepared to protect and secure ourselves,” Arutz Sheva reports.
Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett made similar comments, referring to the "international stuttering and hesitancy on Syria." According to the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored his ministers not to make further comments on Obama's decision.
During his round of political talk shows on Sunday, John Kerry also claimed that samples collected independently from the United Nations after the Aug. 21 attack and handed over to U.S. authorities had tested positive for the sarin nerve agent. But as the Guardian writes, Kerry gave no details with regards to "the source of the samples, or where or when they had been tested.
Russia Today reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced the West's "regime of secrecy," describing as "inappropriate" the fact that the U.S., Britain and France refuse to share the evidence they claim to possess with regards to the alleged chemical attack in Syria. "If there truly is top secret information available, the veil should be lifted. This is a question of war and peace." Lavrov also said that the evidence previously shown by the West was unconvincing.
"What our American, British and French partners have shown us before — as well as now — does not convince us at all. There are no supporting facts, there is only repetitive talk in the vein of "we know for sure." And when we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: "You are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you." So there are still no facts," he declared.
While the American Congress vote is still one week away, Reuters reports that the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz was ordered to move west toward the Red Sea, along with its strike group, which includes four destroyers and a cruiser. Defense officials told the news agency: "It's about leveraging the assets to have them in place should the capabilities of the carrier strike group and the presence be needed."
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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