Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hopes High for Coming U.N. Meeting; Analysis; Rare Progress on Syria, Iran at Hand, with Chance for All to Save Face

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hopes High for Coming U.N. Meeting; Analysis; Rare Progress on Syria, Iran at Hand, with Chance for All to Save Face

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * After years of estrangement, the United States and Russia are joined as partners in a bold plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons. More surprising yet, American and Iranian leaders after an exchange of courteous letters may meet in New York for the first time since the Islamic revolution swept Iran nearly 35 years ago.

Hopes are unusually high as world leaders gather at the United Nations this week. Though the results are far from certain, all players in the delicate diplomacy confronting them in the coming days could even come out winners in a world increasingly fraught with zero-sum outcomes.

It begins with the U.N. Security Council's scrambling to put together a resolution that is sweeping enough to ensure that Syrian President Bashar Assad surrenders all his chemical arms, and with sufficient penalties to discourage him from reneging.

The five permanent members of the Security Council the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France all hold veto power, and Russia has not shied from blocking a council resolution that would punish Syrian behavior in the civil war. The Russians were especially vigorous in promising to veto air strikes to punish Syria for the Aug. 21 chemical attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb. The U.S. blames Assad's regime for the attack; Russia says there is no proof that the regime was responsible and suggests it may have been the rebels who carried it out.

Washington contends that the Russians jumped in with their plan only after U.S. President Barack Obama pushed military action, a threat the American leader says will remain on the table regardless of the outcome at the United Nations. As a result, Obama will probably not insist that the coming U.N. resolution on Syrian chemical disarmament include such a threat should Assad fail to live up to the deal. Russian President Vladimir Putin would balk at anything stiffer than sanctions anyway.

And it will be impossible to deal with Syria without at least acknowledging Iranian interests. Tehran has big stakes in backing Assad, who rules Syria as a member of the minority Alawite sect that has close ties to the Shiite Islam of Iran's ruling clergy. Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are helping Syrian government troops in their war against a diverse group of rebels, who appear increasingly dominated by al-Qaida-linked jihadists. …

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