Obama must seize diplomatic opening with Iran to help end Syria crisis
Diplomacy is alive again at the United Nations this week. And it's deeply needed. President Obama should make clear to Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani that Iran would be welcome to participate in a conference to discuss an end to the civil war in Syria.
The eyes of the world are focused on the United Nations in New York this week in an amazing turnabout in international politics. We could have been in the midst of a Middle East war with the United States and France having attacked Syria, triggering resumed fighting across the border of southern Lebanon and Israel. Instead, the UN is back on center stage, the Security Council is functioning again, and its five permanent powers are in a constructive dialogue over chemical weapons in Syria for the first time in two and a half years.Skip to next paragraph
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And in an immensely encouraging sign, we have the presence in New York of the new president of Iran, Hasan Rouhani, clearly intent on improving relations with the US and President Obama and talking the language of peace on how to accommodate Iran’s right to have a civil nuclear-power program with respected non-proliferation treaty safeguards to prevent the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
It should be a source of pride to the British people that their democratic chamber of the House of Commons responded to their views and ignored the advice of their prime minister and foreign secretary. It is now crystal clear that the US intention was to bomb Syria a few days after that debate, possibly as early as that weekend.
To find as historically significant a debate, one has to go back to the World War II, to the second day of a no-confidence debate in the government on May 8, 1940, when the Labor Party, in opposition, announced that it would vote against Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The government was not defeated, and what was significant was not the 30 Conservatives who voted against, but the 60 who abstained, forcing Chamberlain to resign and enabling Winston Churchill to succeed him as prime minister.
Similarly, it was the 95 abstentions this most recent vote that ensured that Prime Minister David Cameron had no alternative but to accept that Britain would not participate in any bombing of Syria and paved the way for Mr. Obama to announce that he too would consult Congress. It also paved the way for the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg to provide the occasion for Obama to talk directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Syria and the subsequent US-Russian diplomacy.
Now, this week in New York, diplomacy must move on to lay the foundation for a negotiated settlement of the long and bitter civil war in Syria. The crucial step is for the US president to make it clear to the Iranian president that Iran would be welcome to participate in a Middle East conference on Syria. If Israel is also invited, so much the better, but that is a matter best left for their two presidents to discuss. The vital step is to involve Iran.