The Iranian-backed Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria held elections on Wednesday in areas under regime control, in a move that Western nations and the Syrian opposition said undermine negotiations for a political solution to the conflict and will likely result in a rubber-stamp parliament in favor of Assad. On Monday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner stated that the election would be “at best premature and not representative of the Syrian people.” Asaad al-Zoubi, chief negotiator for the High Negotiations Council, the main opposition body, called the elections “illegitimate,” while France stated that the elections were a "sham" organized by "an oppressive regime."
Although a UN Security Council resolution calls for the establishment of a transitional government in Syria, the Assad regime has rejected calls for Assad's departure, while a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reiterated on Sunday that his removal from power is a "red line" for Tehran. In addition to IRGC officials, Hezbollah forces, and Iraqi Shiite militias, the Iranian regime recently deployed Iranian special forces to Syria to further prop up the Assad regime. Russia’s bombing campaign has also bolstered Assad, as well as his confidence and ambitions. A recent analysis in the New York Times described Assad as “the ultimate survivor” whose savvy regime refuses to compromise, excels at stalling, and relies on both Iran, its “insurance card,” and Russia for support.
According to the State Department, the Assad regime has perpetrated the vast majority of the violations of a cessation of hostilities between Syrian forces, its allies, and main opposition groups, which was instituted in February and has recently come under severe strain. A few days before peace talks resumed on Wednesday, the Syrian prime minister announced that the Assad regime, with Russian support, is preparing an offensive to retake Aleppo from the rebels, although neither side has declared an end to the truce.
A recent article in The New Yorker, entitled “The Assad Files,” chronicles the efforts of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an independent investigative body, to capture top-secret documents that prove the Assad regime’s systematic torture and murder of detainees, evidence which the organization hopes could one day be used to convict Assad and his associates of crimes against humanity. Several analysts, including President Barack Obama’s former advisor for transition in Syria, Frederic Hof, and a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, Kyle Orton, have argued that the US priority of avoiding friction with Iran has prevented efforts to protect Syrian civilians and hold the Assad regime accountable for its crimes.
Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton rejected the idea of having the United Nations impose a peace deal on Israel and the Palestinians in an interview published Monday in the New York Jewish Week. Gary Rosenblatt, editor of the Jewish week, wrote that the positions Clinton shared in the interview showed how she sought to “distance herself, respectfully and often implicitly, from [President Barack Obama], particularly in terms of foreign policy.” In ruling out an imposed peace settlement, Clinton repeated a position she staked out last month amid reports that the Obama administration was considering allowing the U.N. Security Council to impose the terms of an agreement on Israel and the Palestinians. In her interview, Clinton said that the “United Nations is not the venue” to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to the organization’s “terrible track record in addressing these issues.” She said that peace can be achieved only through negotiations between the two parties themselves.
Clinton also characterized the ten-month settlement freeze that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to in 2009 as “unprecedented,” and observed that it was “unfair to put the onus on Israel” to make peace. She added that she ““[regretted] very much that the Palestinians didn’t take advantage” of the freeze.
On Iran, Clinton said that she has called for “a [Security] Council response” to address Tehran’s recent ballistic missile launches. While she supported the nuclear deal with Iran, Clinton emphasized that it is necessary to “vigorously enforce” the accord and, by doing so, “create unprecedented transparency” on Iran’s nuclear program. While she said that most of the world is unwilling to reimpose sanctions on Iran so soon after they were lifted, she indicated that she could get international support for such a move if necessary.
Since last year, Clinton has staked out foreign policy positions that at times diverge from those adopted by the Obama administration. In a major speech at the Brookings Institution in September, Clinton laid out five pillars of foreign policy that included an “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s military security;” defending America’s Persian Gulf allies; building multinational coalitions to battle Iran’s proxies and enforce embargoes on Iranian arms shipments; taking a strong stand against Iran’s humans rights abuses; and adopting a “comprehensive regional strategy that promotes stability and counters extremism.” Clinton added in the speech that she would downplay disagreements with Israel and invite the Israeli prime minister to Washington during her first month in office.
In October, Clinton said that she would impose no-fly zones over Syria and called for the removal of dictator Bashar al-Assad. A month later, Clinton reiterated her support for Israel and repeated her promise to invite the Israeli prime minister to Washington in an op-ed published in The Forward. Clinton continued to distance herself from Obama at the AIPAC policy conference last month, and pointedly blasted Palestinian incitement for driving the recent wave of terrorism in Israel. (via TheTower.org)