US embraces Iran as (ironic) 'peace' partner in Syria
Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
Despite Iran's growing military presence in Syria in support of the Assad regime, the Islamic Republic is now being openly embraced in the Great Power convergence against the "Islamic State"—which many speculate is the political reality that has lubricated the US-Iran nuclear deal. The official US position is that Assad can participate in a "political transition," to ostensibly end in his stepping down—which is equivocal at best. Even that is starting to look pretty transparent. It should be noted that the Assad regime has actually killed more civilians than ISIS over the past year.
The UN has meanwhile released a report finding Iran's human rights situation (predictably) unimproved since the signing of the nuclear deal. The report, prepared by UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Ahmed Shaheed, "welcomes" the nuclear deal, saying the lifting of economic sanctions could "potentially have a beneficial multiplier effect on the human rights situation in the country." But it also makes clear there is no sign of that yet. The report protests a lack of transparency and willingness to cooperate with UN and international human rights observers. It states that women in Iran "rank at the bottom of countries within its own income group in both economic participation and political empowerment." It particularly highlights use of the death penalty, finding that Iran could execute more than 1,000 this year. The country leads the world in executions per capita, with 753 last year. There have been 690 this year already—likely the highest figure for a nine-month period in over 25 years. (See summary at Jurist) A recent surge in executions in Iran is contributing to a global spike in use of the death penalty over the past two years.
A particular irony is that many of Syria's Assyrian Christians have been drawn to support the Assad regime out of legitimate fear that they would be exterminated by the Sunni jihadists. (Although it must be noted that some Assyrians are in alliance with secular elements of the Syrian rebel coalition.) The report notes (surprise!) that Assyrians also face persecution in Iran, with clergy and parishioners alike prosecuted for "propaganda against the state" for the "crime" of holding mass in "informal house churches."
Possibly even worse is the situation faced by Sufis in Iran. Members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi order have actually been sentenced to flogging merely for belonging to the order, according to the report. And Baha'is continue to be detained and harassed.
Before the rise of ISIS, the US and Iran seemed to be working against each other in Syria, and it even seemed that the Syrian conflict could be a flashpoint for a wider regional war involving the Islamic Republic. This, of course, is still not to be dismissed—and the Russian intervention raises the stakes considerably. But Moscow's raised stakes also put greater pressure on Washington to make nice with Iran and thereby avoid global catastrophe. We have noted before the tension between a centrifugal tendency compelling superpower confrontation (World War 5) and a centripetal tendency mandating continued superpower cooperation against "terrorism" (World War 4). But if the West's (supposed) opposition to Assad and (less hypocritical) opposition to ISIS are even ostensibly based on a commitment to democracy and secularism, the Islamic Republic makes for a very odd partner...