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U.S.-Iran regional power plays shift

Iran's 'axis of resistance' may seem ascendant, but new chances for peace could redefine game in US's favor.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 30, 2008

VISIT: Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal spoke May 24 in Tehran, Iran, with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

A string of events across the Middle East is shifting the US-Iran regional power play. The Iran-led "axis of resistance" arrayed against the US, its Western allies, and Israel may appear ascendant, but new chances for peace could also redefine the game in the US's favor.

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Syria and Israel announced last week that they had secretly resumed talking peace, through Turkish mediators, for the first time in eight years – each one crossing a divide forbidden by their own rhetoric. Few expect immediate progress. But the fact that a strategic ally of Iran – and of anti-Israel militants Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza – is meeting with Israel is prompting speculation about potential change.

"There is a contest going on, an ideological battle, which spills over into proxies and military fighting," says Rami Khouri, head of the Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. "It's not as simple as saying it's an Iran-American confrontation, but they are the two symbolic poles of these different groups."

A further notable event is the recent Arab League-brokered deal in Qatar between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Lebanon's pro-Western government, which ended an 18-month political stalemate on Hezbollah's terms, as well as days of violence that cost 65 lives.

And in Iraq – where the US accuses Iran of exercising "malign influence" by arming and training militants – Iraqi soldiers deployed relatively peacefully into the Baghdad stronghold of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Iran played a role in getting Mr. Sadr's Shiite militia off the streets and ending fierce fighting that left more than 1,000 dead over the past two months.

On the peace track, Israel declared that Syria would have to cut ties with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas to regain the Golan Heights, occupied by the Jewish state since 1967. Syria rejected that demand outright, and instead on Wednesday signed a new defense agreement with Tehran.

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