Hassan Hassan writes: Not long before the Riyadh-Tehran diplomatic row that followed the execution of Saudi Shia cleric Nimr Al Nimr, a showdown between the two countries unfolded in New York. While it is difficult to draw a direct correlation between the two events, the incident can help us understand the depth of the continuing crisis.
On December 18, heated debate ensued between representatives of the two countries at a meeting in New York over the listing of armed groups operating in Syria for possible determination as terrorist organisations. The list, which Jordan was asked to develop, would name extremist groups that must be defeated as part of the UN-sponsored political process for Syria.
A month earlier in Vienna, Saudi Arabia had insisted on including in the list foreign Shia militias fighting on the side of president Bashar Al Assad. Riyadh argued that all foreign fighters must leave Syria, regardless of which side they supported. In New York, Iran, joined by Russia, strongly objected to the demand and the standoff caused a deeper rift between the two countries.
For now, the designation of terror groups in Syria has been referred to a committee comprising several European and regional countries. They first determined indicators and criteria of what constitutes a terrorist organisation, then named armed groups currently fighting in Syria. There is a preliminary list of more than 160 Sunni and Shia organisations.
Iran categorically rejects including any Shia groups in the list. For Tehran, the fate of the Assad regime it supports is critically tied to the presence of those Shia militias. It is a fact that adds to the many issues that compound the conflict in Syria – issues that the international community would seemingly rather sweep under the carpet instead of deal with head on. [Continue reading…]