Why Iran might be worried by Hillary Clinton's meeting with Syria exiles
The subject of the Geneva meeting between Hillary Clinton and Syria exiles was the transition to democracy. But the group's leader has been warning Iran a post-Assad Syria could be far less friendly.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting Tuesday in Geneva with exiled Syrian opposition leaders may have focused on the political transition the US envisions for Syria, but in the backdrop stood Iran and the longstanding American effort to break the Tehran-Damascus axis.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The censure of Syria
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Secretary Clinton met with an opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), whose leader has used recent interviews with Western media to warn Tehran that the days of its special relationship with a regime in the heart of the Middle East are numbered.
And Clinton, while certainly making the path to a democratic and representative regime in Syria her first priority, can’t help but hold the US goal of reversing Iran’s influence uppermost in her mind as well, some regional experts say.
IN PHOTOS: The censure of Syria
The ongoing regional upheaval of the Arab Spring presents “a once-in-a-lifetime chance to alter the balance of power in the Middle East, and certainly changing Syria’s orientation away from Iran would be a major coup from America’s perspective,” says Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma Syria expert.
“Syria is a key country in so many strategic and economic and diplomatic senses, so snipping the ties that bind Syria and Iran would be significant,” Professor Landis says, “to some degree it would make up for the boost in influence that Iran got after the Iraq war.”
Syria’s relations with Iran were not part of Clinton’s public interchange with the opposition leaders. Before going into a private meeting at a Geneva hotel, Clinton told the group that working closely with opposition forces inside the country and reassuring Syria’s minorities that a political transition will benefit them are among their most important tasks.
“A democratic transition includes more than removing the Assad regime,” Secretary Clinton said as she sat down with the opposition leaders in a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland. “It means setting Syria on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender.”
Clinton was in Geneva to deliver a speech to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, which last week received a report from a special commission of inquiry that found “gross violations of human rights” by Syrian security forces in violence against anti-regime protesters. More than 4,000 Syrians, including hundreds of children, have died in eight months of protests, according to the UN.
Oklahoma’s Landis, who writes the Syria Comment blog, says Clinton’s meeting with the SNC was “clearly a step farther” toward some sort of official recognition of the group. But he says the fact this is only Clinton’s second meeting with the Syrian opposition in nine months of turmoil suggests a cautious approach to an opposition that remains weak, divided, and “nowhere near the point of overturning the Assad regime.”