The big issues revolve around Tehran

Rami G Khouri writes: The Moscow-Washington tango that resulted in the Syrian chemical weapons agreement was a first-class diplomatic show that will be analyzed by political scientists and pretzel makers for a generation. As always in successful diplomacy, every actor in the spectacle claims victory and national strategic benefits. The complexity of the cause-and-effect debate is what interests the pretzel makers, whose own fine handiwork defies the attempts of rational people to determine with precision where the pretzel starts and where it ends.

The Russian-American agreement on Syria begs analysis and any possible credible answers on three important questions. The first is for academics and historians because it is unlikely to receive a definitive answer: What role did the American threat of the use of force against Syria play in pushing the parties to an agreement?

Arguments on both sides of this question reflect existing ideological positions on issues such as the degree of coherence in U.S. policy in the Middle East and the efficacy and ethics of Washington’s proclivity to use military force unilaterally and at will anywhere in the world. This is a fascinating and important debate because the U.S. will threaten or use force again and again – as President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry both repeated several times in recent days while explaining their policies toward Syria and Iran.

The second key issue to examine now is how the agreement will impact the internal fighting in Syria, and the condition of Syria and Syrians.

I expect fighting to continue unabated across the country, and increase in places, as both sides seek to show that they gained from the accord – while their respective external supporters in the United States, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia will continue to feed them money and guns. Any drop in American aid to rebels will be compensated for by increased Arab Gulf aid.

The third and most important political question that the U.S.-Russia agreement raises is about its likely implications for a set of critical relationships revolving around a central actor in this wider drama–Iran. In the short run two dynamics matter here: American and Russian relations with Iran, and Iranian-Saudi Arabian relations. [Continue reading…]

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