The presidents of the US, Russia and Iran, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, have agreed to go forward on a common policy for resolving Middle East issues, with Moscow and Tehran in the front roles and Washington “leading from behind.”
This is revealed by DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Washington, Moscow and Tehran.
Some high-placed American sources believe that this deal sprang from a preliminary accord Obama and Rouhani concluded secretly before, not after, the signing of the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna on July 14. Reluctant to be wholly dependent on the US, Rouhani invited the Russian president to join as third partner.
Putin consented, provided Russia sat at the wheel, with Iran in second seat and the US leading “from behind.”
Rouhani and Obama accepted Putin’s terms.
The Russian president thereupon appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov his Special Representative for the Middle East in the triumvirate. (Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is usually reserved for front-of-the-stage work in international diplomacy.)
Rouhani’s man was to be Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, while Obama chose Secretary of State John Kerry, to be assisted by Oman’s Foreign Minister Youssef Ben Alaoi Ben Abdallah for liaison with the Iranian president’s office.
Tehran gives the lie to Kerry’s claim of a “different approach”
These arrangements and mechanisms were finally set in place at the foreign ministers’ conference in Doha on Aug. 3. They generated Kerry’s comment Tuesday, Aug. 8. “If we can get this deal [the nuclear accord with Iran] done, then we’re ready to sit down and talk about regional issues and we may be able to work things in difference places.”
He went on to say, “I just got a message from my counterpart from Iran. He’s in Beirut meeting with the government officials there. You know where he was last weekend? He was in Kuwait and in Qatar. He’s reaching out to those countries. Are we going to turn our backs on the possibility that Rouhani and Zarif might, in fact, want to try and have a different approach?” Kerry asked rhetorically.
Zarif quickly belied Kerry’s assurance of a “different approach,” when he declared on arriving in Beirut: “The Islamic Republic's major challenge in the region is in confronting…the Zionist and extremist regime."
But that was by the way. In their quiet discussions, DEBKA Weekly reports, the three presidents agreed that their top priority must be to de-escalate the violence in the Middle East – notably the wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq – and bend all their efforts to vanquishing the Islamic State.
Zarif can’t sell the “rescue Assad plan” to a single Arab leader
They planned to kick this effort off by interfacing the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts and their solutions.
(DEBKA Weekly 673 last week: United by Differences, US and Russia Head up New Grouping for Fighting ISIS, Sustaining Assad in Power.)
To carry this step forward, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir was invited to Moscow Tuesday, Aug. 11. His task was to relay to King Salman Bin Abdelaziz the three presidents’ arguments in favor of keeping Bashar Assad in power, as crucial to a Syrian solution and the ability to come to grips with ISIS.
All three leaders were in consensus on this premise.
But Al-Jubeir stuck to his guns. Before flying out of Moscow, he told reporters that Riyadh's position on the conflict in Syria had not changed. There was no place for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the country, he said
He was not the only stand-out. The Iranian foreign minister was no more successful than Lavrov in selling to a single Arab leader the shared US-Russian-Iranian resolve to preserve the Assad regime.
Saudis present their own terms, starting with Assad’s resignation
What Al-Jubeir in fact turned down was a comprehensive plan for bringing Assad and Saudi-backed Syrian rebel leaders together to discuss a power-sharing arrangement in Damascus headed by Assad as president.
He flatly rejected this plan and instead slapped down four Saudi demands to be met in the following order:
1. Bashar Assad must step down as president.
2. Iran must remove its military forces and those of its pawn, the Lebanese Hizballah, from all parts of Syria, along with the entire collection of Revolutionary Guards troops and mixed pro-Iranian Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
3. An international conference must be called to determine the future of Syria.
4. Any solution to the Syrian crisis must preserve the country’s territorial integrity.
Lavrov and Bogdanov flatly rebuffed the four Saudi stipulations one by one.
The Russian foreign minister declared angrily: “US coalition strikes on ISIS did not fulfill its targets, and so toppling Assad will pave the way to ISIS to seize power and control the whole country.”
He was accusing Saudi Arabia in advance of being responsible, should Syria fall into the hands of the jihadis.
The three powers give up on Saudis joining their initiative
DEBKA Weekly’s Gulf sources estimate that Al-Jubeir’s rebuff was not Riyadh’s last word on the Syrian question.
The Saudis will not tolerate dictates handed down by Washington, Moscow and Tehran in the manner in which they were put before their foreign minister in Moscow. But they remain open to ideas for ending the Syrian and Yemen conflicts and Bashar Assad’s future – but only on their own terms and in negotiation with partners of their choice.
Riyadh has in fact acted to circumvent the triumvirate and its effort to set the pace in the region in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal, by setting out on a path of its own.
Our sources reveal that for the past two weeks, Saudi and Iranian intelligence chiefs have been holding face-to-face talks at a secret venue in the Gulf region.
Meanwhile, Obama, Putin and Rouhani, decided Thursday night, Aug. 13, to count Saudi Arabia out of their joint initiative for taking the heat out of the violent conflicts raging in the Middle East and laying the ground for political solutions.
The threesome is confident that their shared track will succeed in reaching a successful outcome. They will then present the recalcitrant oil kingdom with a done deal, which it would be forced to accept – in the same way as it had to swallow the nuclear accord with Iran.