As the Obama administration drums up Congressional support for air strikes against the regime of President Assad in Damascus, Syria’s only regional ally, Iran, has come under close scrutiny in Washington.
A long-time nemesis of the United States, Tehran, along with Moscow, has been a source of material support of Assad since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. But a recent series of non-confrontational gestures – and even criticism of the use of chemical weapons by Assad – have raised eyebrows among top U.S. Tehran-watchers.
It is not clear yet whether this new tone represents a significant shift away from Assad. Public comments by Iranian officials and editorials in government-controlled media suggest that Tehran’s support for Assad may not be unconditional.
Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council believes that Iranian estrangement with Syria kicked in quite some time ago:
“The use of chemical weapons of the Assad government was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for many decision makers in Iran. But I would go a step further and argue that the indiscriminate killing of innocent Syrians on behalf of the Assad government, by the Assad government was a straw that broke the camel’s back for many Iranians long ago,” he told euronews.
At a Brookings Institution conference on the crisis in Syria, experts say it’s still too early to predict a new look in the Middle East after Assad, including a new role for Iran. Nevertheless, according to Brookings’ top Iran expert Suzanne Maloney, Iran’s strategic interest has changed:
“Syria is not the ally it once was. The strategic interest [of Iran] has changed as a result of the fact that the state itself has collapsed and that Bashar’s control of his own territory is now very limited. And so the Iranians are looking to ensure that they retain real influence,” she said.
Euronews Washington correspondent, Stefan Grobe, reports:
“Washington’s foreign policy community is divided over the role Iran can and will play in the future Middle East. There is still deep-rooted mistrust towards Tehran. But some see an opening for a new relationship between Iran and the United States – provided, of course, Assad is defeated in Syria.”