WASHINGTON — In a bid to avoid military strikes that the White House was lukewarm about launching, Syria’s regime committed to clear all of its chemical weapons from the country by June 30.
The end of the six-month interim nuclear deal with Iran, which likewise has more than a few skeptics within the Beltway and beyond, rolls around on July 20.
While the world’s attention is diverted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of the Crimean peninsula, his most nefarious allies have important deadlines to meet.
Timelines that, by all indications, are punctuated by obfuscation and delays while Iran and Syria’s ally in the Kremlin — Russia, for example, is Bashar al-Assad’s biggest arms supplier — has the world’s eyes trained on Eastern Europe.
In addition to this perfect storm, the State Department is demanding a Middle East peace plan blueprint be accepted by the end of April.
“We’re going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we’re able to move it forward. And my hope is, is that we can continue to see progress in the coming days and weeks,” President Obama said today while welcoming Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House.
“We don’t have any time to waste,” Abbas chimed in. “Time is not on our side, especially given the very difficult situation that the Middle East is experiencing and the entire region is facing… Mr. President, I’m aware that you have several international concerns in various places around the world and we know that you are dedicating your time and effort for peace, and so are the teams that are working on this.”
After a fruitless meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry said afterward that they nonetheless “agreed that we are going to stay in touch in the next days on Ukraine, as well as on the other issues of concern, which we are working on – Syria, Iran, and other challenges of mutual concern.”
But a senior administration official speaking on background today about Ukraine and the latest sanctions said “clearly we’re willing to indicate that this is going to have costs in our bilateral relationship.”
“But if you look at the scope of those other issues, on the Syria chemical weapons issue, Russia is deeply invested in that project and, in fact, we’ve seen a picking up of the pace in terms of the removal of the CW from Syria,” the official said. “Similarly, on Iran, Russia would only be further isolating itself were it to cease cooperation through the P5-plus-1, and Russia has its own interests in avoiding an escalation of events in the Persian Gulf or nuclear proliferation.”
Moscow has been eager to ink deals with the Islamic Republic regardless of its nuclear status. In January, the two began negotiating a $1.5 billion-per-month oil-for-goods swap intended to undermine sanctions to the tune of half a million barrels of oil per day, sources told Reuters. Onetime Intelligence Committee chairman and former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) warned the House Foreign Affairs Committee this month that Iran and Russia were forging “a much closer relationship” centered around the capability to wage cyber attacks.
“Iran’s and Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and their confrontation with US and Western policies aimed at Assad’s demise leads us to conclude that both countries intend to consolidate their strategic depth in the region, establishing themselves as an influential actor. Combine this strategic security objective with the geopolitical security interests, shared between Russia and Iran, and there is no better country with whom Russia could ally than Iran,” Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian ambassador to Germany who served as the regime’s mouthpiece in nuclear negotiations with the EU a decade ago, wrote in Al-Monitor on Sunday.
“It is a safe assumption that if the Ukrainian crisis continues and Iran faces excessive demands and pressure from the West during the nuclear negotiations, Russia will move closer to Iran and the two states could form a power pole in the region,” Mousavian added.