Syria’s opposition risks losing West’s support

September 20, 2013

Insulted Syrian opposition could lose West’s ear, U.N. General Assembly offers a chance for U.S.-Iran relations, and Hezbollah looks to Africa for cash. Today is Friday, September 20, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Female members of the “Mother Aisha” battalion sit together along a street in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district, September 19, 2013. REUTERS/Loubna Mrie

Insult could mean injury. Syria’s opposition feels betrayed by Washington’s agreement to work on a chemical weapons disarmament deal with Moscow, but diplomats warn they must adapt to the new realities or risk losing Western support:

The rift that has alienated the Syrian opposition from the United States threatens to derail international efforts to end the two and a half year civil war, diplomatic and opposition sources said. […] The opposition is furious that Washington suddenly and without its knowledge changed course a week after informing leaders of the main Syrian National Coalition that a strike was imminent, according to coalition members. In the opposition’s view, the deal with Russia contains a de facto admission of the legitimacy of the Assad government, undermining the goal of Syrian uprising and the likelihood that any peace talks will result in Assad’s removal.

A senior opposition official said Washington’s absence at a major opposition meeting in Istanbul this weekend did not go unnoticed: “The Americans did not even bother to send a single diplomat to inform us what they were doing with the Russians.” Yet diplomats monitoring the meeting said the opposition’s intransigence on adjusting to changing diplomatic priorities could create a rift with the United States. Russian President Putin said on Thursday he hopes the deal will succeed, although it remains unclear how Washington and Moscow will destroy Syria’s chemical arms stockpile. Secretary of State John Kerry says he hopes to see the Security Council act on the plan next week, when the U.N. General Assembly takes place in New York.

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani speaks with the media during a news conference in Tehran, June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Fars News/Majid Hagdost 

Extending a hand to Iran. Following reports that Obama exchanged letters with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and recent statements suggesting Iran’s willingness to engage in discussion over the country’s nuclear program, next week’s U.N. General Assembly could prove a pivotal moment in redefining relations when the two leaders meet:

Regardless of whether Obama and Rouhani shake hands, the more serious issue is whether both countries are ready to get into a direct bilateral discussion. The United States suspects Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons, something it sees as a threat to Israel and to oil-producing U.S. allies in the Gulf. Iran denies that, saying its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. A decade of negotiations between Iran and the West has yet to resolve the dispute and the United States has said it would not take any option off the table – code for a possible military strike – in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

Reuters columnist David Rohde writes that even a handshake would be a momentous event. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, President Rouhani urged “prudent engagement” in response to Iran’s efforts to start dialogue. Obama has a chance to engage with the new leader, but must strike the right balance between welcoming Iran’s overtures and encouraging Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

Military officials stand near ammunition seized from suspected members of Hezbollah after a raid of a building in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Going after West Africa. As Iran feels the effects of Western sanctions, Hezbollah is turning to other backers in West Africa:

The United States and its allies are clamping down on suspected Hezbollah activity in West Africa, which Washington says is a major source of cash for the Lebanese group as its patron Iran feels the pinch of sanctions. “(West Africa) is more important in the sense that what they’re getting from Iran is squeezed. Iran’s capacity to fund Hezbollah has been impaired,” said David Cohen, U.S. treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. “There’s reason to think Hezbollah is not just collecting money but it is also using these outposts as places where they can plan and conduct activities,” he added.

West African countries have long maintained strong economic ties with Lebanon, and critics argue the Washington has exaggerated the problem.

Nota Bene: Bombs hidden in air conditioning units killed killed at least 15 people in a Sunni mosque in Iraq.


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