September 25th, 2014
06:04 PM ET

Zakaria: Path to political progress in Syria must run through Tehran

CNN speaks with Fareed about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's speech to the United Nations and Tehran's potential role in tackling ISIS. Watch Fareed's interview with Rouhani this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

What struck you most about Rouhani’s speech?

It wasn't a particularly interesting or dramatic speech. It repeated themes that the Iranians have been saying for a while. Rouhani has been more forthcoming in interviews he's done – I had an opportunity to do one of them. In those, what becomes clear is the Iranians believe that they can be part of the solution in Iraq, in Syria, with regard to ISIS, even in Afghanistan. But first the nuclear deal has to be achieved. They are putting a lot of hope and a certain amount of pressure on the West to produce a nuclear agreement, a compromise that everyone can live with, and then they say they could be helpful for issues of shared interest, common interests in the fight against ISIS.

Certainly coupling issues that the West, the U.S. does not want to have coupled there. You spoke with him yesterday. He's critical of these air strikes in Syria. What did he tell you?

Well, he's critical of them, but I think it's important to note the criticism is very muted. It's of two forms. One is what you heard in the speech – this is all the West's fault. You invaded Iraq. You created instability. You created a haven for this kind of activity.

The second is rather technical grounds, which is that it's technically not something that can be sanctioned by international law because it doesn't have U.N. approval and it didn't have the Syrian government's approval. He moves off that pretty quickly. He's in favor of battling ISIS – there's no condemnation of U.S. air strikes. I think that they would very much like – the Iranians, that is – to have the United States take an active part in the struggle against ISIS. They just want to make sure they get the nuclear deal.

In your interview with Rouhani, he was smirking at the suggestion that the rebels, that the U.S. is now overtly arming, are a real ally when it comes to combating ISIS in Syria.

Exactly right. Remember, the Iranian government supports the Syrian government, so it takes the Syrian government's position that those rebels, the Free Syrian Army, are a bunch of terrorists. It highlights what is going to be the thorniest aspect of President Obama's strategy against ISIS, which is that in Syria, the president is saying he's going to fight ISIS. But then he's going to somehow not let that benefit the main adversary of ISIS, which is the al-Assad government, by helping the third group, the Free Syrian Army, that's weak, disorganized and so far hasn’t been able to hold significant territory.

And so if the Iranians push very hard against that Free Syrian Army, it's going to make it much, much harder. And somehow, it feels to me the United States has to get engaged with Iran in a conversation about what Syria is going to look like politically, because if everybody from the outside is supporting one or the other group, you have a 12-cornered civil war, and maybe we won't defeat ISIS and certainly we will create a hell of a lot of chaos in Syria.

Iran has more influence on the Syrian government than any government in the world. It feels to me like the path to some political progress in Syria is going to have to run through Tehran.

Post by:
Topics: Iran • ISIS

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Allan Kinsman©

    Much of our problem in the middle east has come from sharing military hardware and not knowing who we are giving them too. I remember when we were discussing giving the syrian rebels arms last time how it may come back at us. How have our decisions gotten better?

    September 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm |
    • Media Propaganda

      Democrats and Republicans are promoting ISIS across MSNBC, CNN, and FOX.
      We need an alternative to Fear, War, and Surveillance in 2016.
      Ignore the Mainstream Media.

      September 28, 2014 at 4:43 pm |
  2. chri§§y

    Exactly @ Allan...and STILL Assad is still in charge! Nothing has gotten any better for the people of Syria. But its sure gotten worse...and not just for syrians.

    September 25, 2014 at 6:19 pm |
  3. Philip

    US gang bangers? are a bigger threat than "ISIS". According to FBI Crime Stats.
    Get a clue: Americans are their own worst enemy. Just as Jesus said. (Matthew ch.. 10)

    September 25, 2014 at 7:01 pm |
    • Terrence

      LA Times Quoting Oxfam:

      "The percentage of income held by the richest 1% in the U.S. has grown by nearly 150% since 1980. That small elite has received 95% of wealth created since 2009, after the financial crisis, while the bottom 90% of Americans have become poorer, Oxfam said."

      September 25, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
      • bobcat2u

        Yeah, that is the effect of the ol' Reaganomic trickle down theory. And it's working just fine. The wealth is still trickling down. Right into the bank accounts of those who already have.

        September 25, 2014 at 11:10 pm |
  4. Philip

    Members of your own household will raype your kids and steel from you. Just as Jesus said would be the case in these last days of flag wavers and warmongers ruling this world.

    September 25, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
  5. Philip

    Members of your own household will. Second your worst enemies, said 85% of America's Jesus of the Bible Bill Clinton swore on. nd then jumped on a fat chick in our Oval Office.

    September 25, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
    • Arvid

      Are you replying to the voices in your head? Because the topic isn't Jesus or Clinton.

      September 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm |
    • George Patton

      Some priests are openly gay. They like boys. The church has not done enough to stop this

      September 25, 2014 at 10:33 pm |
      • Terrence

        The absolute, actual offense are significant: 11:1 ratio straight/gay pedophile ratio, with 98 hetero offenders, to 1-2% gay population; with a 7.177 billion population, and assuming 0.5% offense rate, there are 35 million straight offenders, (mostly male) and 732,000 gay victims or a victim ratio of 48 girls/boys assaulted by hetero males, to 1 boy offended by a gay male pedophile.

        September 25, 2014 at 10:47 pm |
  6. Philip

    *will BECOME your worst enemies, rather

    September 25, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
  7. Cal

    Philip, stay on topic please.

    September 25, 2014 at 8:03 pm |
  8. Mike

    USA must kick off criminal Alassad from Syria prior to fight against all the Shia and Sunni extremist groups in the region like ISIS, Khorasan, Hezbollah, Sadre, Sepah Ghods......

    September 25, 2014 at 8:17 pm |
  9. Mike

    Iran regime = Shia version of Sunni ISIS.

    September 25, 2014 at 8:24 pm |
  10. Mike

    The Iran islamic regime control Iran under the islamic law like SIS.
    They force women to put the head cover and jail and torching or even executing the iranian people for listening to the music or putting a comment in the website or reading a forbidden book or even showing happiness! ,
    The clips from inside Raqqa by the hidden camera looks like inside iran.

    September 25, 2014 at 8:43 pm |
    • Ferhat Balkan

      Unfortunately, you're right. I would like to add though, that the Quran does not state that women should be forced to wear the hijab or any other head cover. In Islam, women are encouraged to cover themselves. This is done voluntarily, as a sign of respect for Allah (God). Why do Jews wear the yarmulke? Same reason. People sometimes go to extremes. Thus the term extremism.

      September 25, 2014 at 9:37 pm |
  11. George Patton

    Well said, Fareed. Without Iran, peace in the Middle East is virtually impossible.

    September 25, 2014 at 10:10 pm |
    • Cyrusz

      The US needs to remember that the majority of those Syrian citizens no longer trust him – understandably, they loathe his very being.
      A truly distrustful 'friend' who allowed the murderous Assad brothers to continue crossing his much vaunted "Red Line". That promised help and support, simply never to materialize.
      The outcome?
      All those unnecessary deaths. All that destruction. The unprecedented growth of ISIS.
      Such a missed opportunity.
      Its surely time for that weak and untrustworthy president to truly make amends.
      Syria will NEVER achieve peace, while the murderous Assad Mafia (including Hezbollah and Iran Islamic regime) clan remain at the helm.

      September 26, 2014 at 11:20 am |
  12. George Patton

    Most biker gangs are felons. They are here already. They attack and do drugs. They are a bigger threat than terrrrorists.
    The FBI knows it too.

    September 25, 2014 at 10:36 pm |
  13. rupert

    George Patton, stay on topic please.
    Thank u. U tea partier.

    September 25, 2014 at 10:39 pm |
    • George patton

      That was a different George Patton, rupert. As you may have noticed, I spell my last name with a small p.

      September 26, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Allan Kinsman©

    The problem with reason is those in power yield power and do not need to use it. They use an argument of fear and control. The media, both written and visual present opinion fail objectivity.Foreign policy is based upon the needs of the corporate mind not on a governance of principle. Our discussion hear is academic at best. A well intentioned effort finding deaf and blind listeners. Now that the corporate mind shapes opinion one last annoyance the internet and then the vision of George Orwell. If we fail at the dream of liberty perhaps the best in us won't be lost for a conscious species will continue.

    September 26, 2014 at 2:00 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      A masterpiece!

      September 26, 2014 at 5:28 am |
      • rupert

        Maybe joey, but a little complicated to understand. Getting there.

        September 26, 2014 at 4:26 pm |
  15. Karl

    People, one with each other, children of the future, victims of the past.

    September 26, 2014 at 7:04 am |
  16. chri§§y

    @ Anvid...the topic WASNT h o m ophobes either, but we had to read all THAT garbage too!

    September 26, 2014 at 11:05 am |
  17. Buck Ofama

    Try telling to our great president, Barack Obama. He knows what's what. He really does!

    September 26, 2014 at 11:20 pm |

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