Russia’s “Friends of Syria” Snub -- As Seen From Moscow

Russia won’t be joining the “Friends of Syria” group for its upcoming summit in Tunisia. Why? Because Moscow sees it as a repeat of the ‘Contact Group on Libya,’ which helped lay the groundwork for foreign military intervention.

Alexander Lukashevich speaking about Russia's refusal to go to the 'Friends of Syria' conference.
Alexander Lukashevich speaking about Russia's refusal to go to the "Friends of Syria" conference.
Alexandr Reutov

MOSCOW -- Russia on Tuesday turned down an invitation by Arab countries to take part in the "Friends of Syria" group, which has active support from the United States and the European Union. Moscow is concerned that the conference – slated to take place on Friday in Tunis, Tunisia – will become an excuse to interfere in the Syrian conflict - just as happened in Libya.

"Many different opposition groups were invited to Tunis, but the Syrian government was not invited to the conference," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich said in a rebuke to the conference organizers. "That means that the interests of the majority of Syria's population, which support the government, will not be represented." He went on to say that the conference "brings up more questions then it does answers."

Lukashevich complained that Russia was not given a list of the other conference invitees, nor an agenda of the day's events. He said also that a group of governments among the "Friends of Syria" – without input from the other invitees – have already been working on a document "that they will then just ask the other invitees to rubber-stamp."

"You get the feeling that we're talking about creating some kind of international coalition, just as was the case with the ‘Contact Group on Libya," with the goal of supporting one side against the other in an internal conflict," the Russian diplomat concluded.

Russia thinks that the Syrian problem should be resolved under the aegis of the United Nations, so that "all members of the world's societies can act as friends of the entire Syrian people, not just one part of it."

For some of "Syria's Friends," Russia's decision to turn down the invitation may not actually have been all that upsetting. After the Tunisian government, acting in its capacity as hosts of the forum, sent the invitation to Moscow, Washington was quick to point out that the list of invitees was supposed to include only those countries which had already shown their support for the Syrian people by supporting the U.N. resolution and the Arab League's suggestion regarding the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria. "And with regret," said Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the State Department, "China is not in that category. Nor is Russia."

Responding to Russia's decision not to participate in the talks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to use Friday's meeting in Tunis to "send a clear message to Russia, China and others who are still unsure about how to handle the increasing violence, but are up until now unfortunately making the wrong choices."

It is noteworthy that China, unlike Russia, is trying to keep a low profile in the matter. On Tuesday, the representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Hong Lei confirmed that Beijing had received the invitation to the conference in Tunis. But the Chinese diplomat shied away from a straight answer on whether or not China would accept.

"China continues to study the goals and mechanisms of the meeting," Hong Lei said. "China welcomes all measures that could facilitate a peaceful resolution to the Syrian problem."

Read the original article in Russian

Photo -

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

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.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


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.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

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.

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!