Iran is making it clear that it sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s survival as crucial to its regional designs – and that is adding a new dimension to Iran’s place in the presidential campaign. Romney says a nuclear Iran would constitute “the greatest threat to the world” in part because it would embolden Tehran to pursue its regional aims. Obama recently seemed to shut the door tighter on dialogue with Iran when the US rejected a proposal to include Iran in international talks on Syria. The Obama administration says Iran’s participation in Syria diplomacy is a “red line” because of Tehran’s support for pro-Assad militias and “terrorists” in the region.
Romney has been critical of Obama for not leading against Assad. In May, he called for the US to “arm the opposition so they can defend themselves” – a move the White House said would lead to more “chaos and carnage.” Since then, there have been unconfirmed reports that Obama signed a secret order earlier this year that broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad. This support stops short of supplying weapons, Reuters reported on Aug. 1. The State Department, also on Aug. 1, announced that the US is providing $25 million for “non-lethal” assistance to the Syrian rebels.
Romney has not endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone inside Syria, along the lines proposed by Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, and Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut. The Obama administration only goes so far as to say it is considering and studying the idea.