After decades in which relations between the United States and Iran have been cold if not openly hostile the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has signaled his country may be ready to talk rapprochement with the West. The Iranian leader, who is set to speak at the United Nations next week, has also offered to help initiate talks between the embattled government of President Bashar Assad and the opposition in Syria.
In a Washington Post op-ed published on Friday, Rouhani wrote: “The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.”
Speaking to the war in Syria, Rouhani wrote: “We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates. As part of this, I announce my government’s readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.”
Since taking office in August, Rouhani has rolled out a measured public relations drive in an attempt to bring Tehran back into the international fold after years of diplomatic and economic isolation under former leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani is set to travel to New York next week to attend the U.N. General Summit. While the president is not scheduled to hold formal talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, rumors continue to circulate in diplomatic circles that the two may briefly meet on the sidelines of the summit. When Rouhani was asked by NBC’s Ann Curry about the potential for dialogue during an interview in Tehran this week, Rouhani replied that “necessary conditions” must be met first, but the president noted that “anything is possible in the world of politics.”
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 19, 2013
Meanwhile, Assad’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil has admitted that the civil war has ground to a stalemate with no side seemingly strong enough to secure a decisive battlefield victory, and that officials were considering calling for a ceasefire during a proposed conference in Geneva.
“Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side,” Jamil told the Guardian. “This zero balance of forces will not change for a while.”
While the government may be considering a ceasefire that could bring peace to large swathes of the country, rebel militias in the war-torn nation continued to battle both forces loyal to Assad and each other this week — opening a new front and adding another layer of complexity to the more than two-year-old conflict. On Thursday, an Al-Qaeda-linked militia succeeding in resting a town near the Turkish border from rebels with ties to the more moderate Free Syrian Army.
The news follows reports of renewed tensions between Islamist forces calling for the establishment of a caliphate in the country and militias committed to unseating Assad. In an audio message published last week, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Islamist militias in Syria to shun relations with more moderate, secular forces that the U.S. has begun furnishing with light arms.
“I warn my brothers and people in the Syria of unity and jihad against coming close to any of these groups,” said Zawahri in an audio message recorded earlier this month.
In a blow to both Islamists and Assad, reports surfaced earlier this week that the opposition Syrian National Coalition struck a groundbreaking deal with a bloc of influential Kurdish parties. According to a report published by Abu Dhabi’s The National, both opposition forces and Assad have attempted to secure the ethnic group’s support with “each believing it could be crucial in tipping the balance of power on the ground in their favor.” Kurds account for approximately 10% of Syria’s population.