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Ed Webb

Former Obama officials propose talking with Iran on Syria aid | The Back Channel - 0 views

  • Amid deepening US-Russia strains over Ukraine, two former Obama administration officials say it may be time for the US to explore trying to develop a channel with Iran to discuss Syria, beginning with humanitarian relief.
  • “My bottom line sense with the Iranians is there’s hope for a US-Iran conversation [on Syria humanitarian aid] that is a serious and potentially productive one,” Frederic Hof, a former senior US diplomat advising the Obama administration on Syria and the Levant, told Al-Monitor.in an interview last week.

    In track 2 conversations with Iranians that Hof has been involved in, “the people I talk to are blunt:  they are not interested in talking about a [Syria] political transition,” Hof, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said. “They need Assad and regime support to Hezbollah in Lebanon as Iran’s first line of defense against Israel and the possibility of an Israeli air assault on their nuclear facilities.”

  • Those “in charge of the US role in the P5+1 will absolutely oppose any kind of cross -pollination or discussion about Syria. So it takes a decision almost at the highest level,” to try to pursue a Syria channel with Iran.
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  • Hof said he raised with Iranian interlocutors in track 2 talks the prospect of a scenario in which a “Srebrenica-style moment” occurred in Syria, as the Iran and the P5+1 were advancing a nuclear deal. A scenario in which “your client does something so outrageous, that it inspires POTUS to do what he declined to do in August or September,” Hof said. “To the extent you guys are serious on the nuclear front, what does that do to that progress?” Hof asked his Iranian interlocutors. “And they looked at one another and shrugged, because their attitude is, Assad is not the most reliable guy in the world.”
Ed Webb

Veteran US diplomat tackles Middle East 'mess' - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Al-Monitor:  In the old days, the Iranians and the Saudis used to talk to each other and resolve issues. Now, this is a missing piece.

    Patterson:  It goes back 20 years [to Lebanon]. This is a missing piece. And so the proxy war has gotten a lot worse and you see it all over now in frankly scary dimensions. But it wasn’t that long ago when they had some kind of relationship. … They never liked each other, but they weren’t at this level of animosity.

  • Al-Monitor:  There have been some incredibly anti-American statements lately in Egypt. [Former parliament member and current Al-Osboa editor] Mustafa Bakri openly called last week for attacks against Americans. What are we doing to counter this?

    Patterson:  We complain to the government. Mr. Bakri did sort of back off that statement. But now there has been a rash of hugely anti-American stuff in the press. This ebbs and flows, … [but] it’s really a quite dangerous game, because you fan up public opinion and then you’re hostage to public opinion.

  • Al-Monitor:  Let’s turn to Egypt. General, now Field Marshal [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi seems on his way to becoming Egypt’s next president. How would you characterize our relationship with him and the Egyptian government at this point?

    Patterson:  Personal relationships with him have been good — certainly with ambassadors, including me and with [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel and with Secretary Kerry and a lot of people on the Hill. But it’s certainly no secret that we’re concerned about freedom of the press, freedom of association, all the fundamentals that are being thrown into question right now in Egypt, not to mention the huge economic issues.

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  • It’s like 1979. The Arab Spring has changed the situation entirely in the region all at once. … It looks like a mess … but if some of this can be successful, … it will change the chessboard. … So let’s hold out hope that some of this will work.
Ed Webb

UPDATE 1-Saudi spy chief says Riyadh to shift away from U.S. over Syria, Iran | Reuters - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief has said the kingdom will make a "major shift" in dealings with the United States in protest at its perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.

    Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

    It was not immediately clear if Prince Bandar's reported statements had the full backing of King Abdullah.

    "The shift away from the U.S. is a major one," the source close to Saudi policy said. "Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.

  • he suggested that the planned change in ties between the energy superpower and its traditional U.S ally would have wide-ranging consequences, including on arms purchases and oil sales
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