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tv   Inside Story  Al Jazeera  November 3, 2015 6:30pm-7:01pm EST

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>> when do we want it? >> now. >> explosions going on... we're not quite sure - >> is that an i.e.d.? sub. >> the syrian civil war has seen some big shakeups in recent days. announcement from the u.s. president that special forces are joining the fight. the iranians have gotten a seat at the table in peace talks, and the russians have jumped into the war with both feet. amidst all the change, two things are the same. isil still holds lots of ground, and syrians continue to pour out of the country.
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the road to damascus. it's the "inside story." welcome to "inside story." i'm ray suarez, the discussion of big influential parties outside of syria thought to have a say about its future. russia, the united states, the saudis, the turks, never included iran. didn't include iran, even no the islamic republic was deeply involved in bolstering the assad government and fighting isil in western iraq. iran has been allowed into the consultations, even if it hasn't officially become one of the negotiating partners, and even if it hasn't gotten over its own ambivalence over its be
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public improvement, this after the nuclear program. russia is now on the ground in syria with the hardware and troops, and the fight against isil. all thall the while, refugees continue to pour out of the divided country, and people desperate to escape the violence in syria are willing to take their chances in boats, even as the approaching winter makes it more dangerous. you saw all of latest developments, including seeds to the eventually end to the fighting. courtney keelly has more. >> in tehran, the funeral for one of iran's top military guard. he was held as a hero after isil fighters killed him in syria. iran will seek to avenge his death. and meanwhile, a memorial for a
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top hezbollah fighter, recently killed in syria's battlefield. >> i'm telling you. all of the men of the resistance are present on the ground. and it needs to be larger than ever before. >> iran has recently acknowledged that it has strengthened it's military presence in syria,. >> hundreds of generals, so they're rising and rising and helping syria and iraq be free from terrorists. >> reporter: tehran also showed its willingness to give defeat to assad. the disagreement between saad audand iran is that who goes first, assad or syrian rebels and isil and al qaeda affiliated groups. >> for the iranians, the endgame is not really about whether assad should be in power fresh. >> reporter: iran has now found itself as a new
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negotiating table with its old adversary, saudi arabia and the united states. >> the key thing here is that the folks who believe in working with the international community on the iranian side have been bolstered by the nuclear agreement. so they're kind of standing to argue for a negotiated political solution in syria, rather than battle to the death. and resistance and war and martyrdom. >> despite the military investment in syria, it's unclear how much political and religious influence iran wants to exert as well. >> i don't think that they're going to try to transplant the iranian system into syria, >> reporter: but the war-torn country houses one of the most sacred shia sites. the burial place for the granddaughter, and a place for millions of shias has come under attack in the war.
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they will continue to engage in it security, diplomacy and future post-war. >> the road to damascus, this time on the program. assad still in charge, but days after an unannounced visit to moss cue, russian leaders saying that they would be okay if he decides to go. as the parties aware illy circle each other and figure out what they can agree on amidst the many things that they can't. we begin our program, nicholas burns, three decades in foreign service, and senior post, and u.s. ambassador to nato, he's in practice at harvard's kennedy school of government. welcome back to the program, ambassador. >> thank you, ray. >> when you begin a process like this, and you have parties sitting around the table who agree on very little, near term and long-term, where do you
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begin? >> well, ray, i think that you have to begin with a proposition. that this war in syria, this vicious regional war, is likely to end at a negotiating table at a place like vienna or geneva. that's where most wars normally end. but you're right, there's very little to unite the country around the table in the process that just started. what they can and must remember, the war has produced 260,000 at least dead and 12 million people homeless, both inside and outside of the country. those are staggering figures. this is the greatest and most serious humanitarian crisis in the world today. and if they start there, and if they understand it could get far worse now that russia has entered the fighting, and now that iran and hezbollah have redoubled their efforts, then i think all of them resolving that there has to be a way toward peace, that's where you start.
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and you probably start it, ray, with that humanitarian mission. where if there's any common ground with the saudis, iran, the turks, the americans and the russians and others, it's that we have to get more stable and effective assistance into the refugees, there have to be safe zones, and places they can go, and that has to be i think the first order for this conference. and that might be the one issue where they have some common interests. >> as you mentioned, and have just laid out, in some cases, they have irreconcilable differences about what is to happen in syria. if you want to keep people who have little in common talking do you set those aside as a matter of course? is that what ditch mats do when they commence a process like this? >> well, you do look for common ground. that's why the suggestion that you look at the refugee question first, i think is a logical one.
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but you can't avoid the tough issues. and i think that the beginning of a big negotiation like this, and this could take several years, you have to put all of major issues on the table and try to decide where the major divisions are, and they're clearly divisions between iranians and the saudis. there are divisions between the americans and the russians, there are divisions between the turks and wanted iranians. so to present all of these issues, find out where the most serious differences are, and then begin to see if there's any ability to bridge those differences. some of these countries are doubling down. certainly, i think the greatest pressure right now is on russia and iran. they're the ones who are running guns to president assad in syria. they're the ones who have stoked and ignite this war. as secretary ashe carter said, the russians are pouring gasoline on the fire. so i think that there's going to be pressure from europe,
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from the arab world, and certainly from the united states and canada on the russians and the iranians to show that they're not just going to be agents for war and destruction, but they're willing to use their influence to push the assad government toward a peaceful result. it remains to be seen whether tehran and assad will do that, but they have the most to lose and under the international spotlight. >> what's the significance of giving iran a seat in the room, if not at the table? it's a little ambivalent what they're doing there, but they're there. >> well, i think it's a reflection of reality that iran has probably several thousand fighters on the ground in syria. iran has brought hezbollah in, and both of them are supporting the regimes in damascus, and they're front line fighters, and fighting under the cover of russian air power. so given the commitment that iran has made, i think it's a
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very negativing and destructive commitment. it was a sensible step for the united states, the european countries and arab countries to agree that iran should be at the table. but again, they're not going to be there without a cost to iran. iran now has to understand, they have been on the outside for 35 years. they have been frozen out of middle east politics. if they want to reenter middle east politics, they have to have solutions. they can't just be funders of war. they have to be part of a collective effort toward peace. and i just don't know, ray, if the iranian government is willing to do that. because you see the gentle nice veneer of the iranian government at the nuclear talks in the person of the foreign minister, but we also know that the iranian government has a hard edged cynical side of it, and in the revolutionary guard, the head of the guard, they have been funding the rebellion and war in places like yemen and iraq and lebanon, and now
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in syria. so this is a test that we're on, and i don't know whether they can pass this test. >> almost off handedly, a senior russian was quoted it would be okay if assad decided to go, and was that an accident or meant for worldwide consumption? >> i guess it would feel like it would be surprising if it were an accident, since the russians are an authoritarian government, and one person's voice, president putin's matters more than anyone else's. so i was a bit surprised to hear that statement. the russian government has made it clear they wish assad to remain in power, and certainly it's the position of the united states, and certainly the arab countries, the sunni arab countries like saudi arabia. that if there's any agreement at the end of this negotiation in vienna, then president assad has to leave power. he has been a barbaric leader
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of syria. his use of barrel bombs against the civilian population, and he has driven at least 5 million people out of the country in the last five years, and he doesn't deserve to stay in power. he may be secure now, but if there's an agreement, i think that the collective way of the sunni arab world and the united states, he has to go. >> nicholas burns, a professor of practice and international relations at harvard's kennedy school of government. thank you for joining us. are peace talks like the ones convened over syria, even as fighting rages on in the country, a necessary chapter to figure out what happens there? and all of the parties, what they can live with and what they can't, and tehran, what they have to say about syria's future. the road to damascus, the "inside story."
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>> you're watching "inside story," i'm ray suarez. the u.s. is in, the russians are in, a coalition of sunni majority countries around the middle east working with the united states, to it strike the islamic state and the assad government. what does russia tell you about the trajectory of this war?
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what does the obama administration say that the u.s. forces on the ground in syria really mean? last year, two years ago, making common cause on the u.s. and syria barbara sladen is here, the author of bitter friends and bosom enemies, iran, the u.s. and the twisted path of confrontation. and paul salem is here in washington, vice president of public policy and research at the middle east institute. and paul, let me start with you, what does iran's involvement officially and behind the scenes pain to you? >> i think for a herd in the middle east, iran has been in since the revolution, and the nuclear deal was somewhat of a turning point, and this is the first time that we see them at a formal table, related to a major conflict in the middle east. it's the beginning of a very long process, and i'm not optimistic that one meeting or
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ten meetings will quickly get to a result. but it's important that iran and turkey and other arab countries acknowledge everyone other, and sit in the same room and begin to realize that they have to deal with not only syria, but other issues in the middle east. having said that, the positions of iran and the regional players are very very far apart. >> barbara slavein, there say risk? because other countries that have a stake in this -- >> i don't think that there's a risk. i agree with paul, the nuclear agreement was a turning point, and it gave us a model p5 plus one, and now the security council, i don't know, four or five or ten countries that were in the room for the first meeting in vienna. it was a model that worked. iand the arab countries, particularly saudi arabia,
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vetoed the iranian participation up to now. and they had to call king solomon, and john kerry had to see the saudi foreign minute itster to basically inform them that iran was going to be at the table. >> you heard nick barns say that it was a call to responsibility, that they can't blast the speeches from iran, and they have to play a role. >> i think that iran will continue to it foament. but iran said that they were a power in the region, and there has no way to solve the issues. but iran has always been part ars mist and have participate firefighter. so helping to stoke the flames, the question is will they be prepared at some point to push him aside. and i'm not convinced that they are. >> so what are they doing there?
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just showing that they belong in the group of big boy countries? >> they wanted to be there before. and they were not invited. >> they were disinvited. >> they were disinvited to be price. but saudi arabia, to come to the table where iran is, partly of that respects fatigue on the saudi side, because of the war in yemen, and they have gotten involved in the very open-ended engagement there, that's right on the back door and very costly, but possibly more importantly, the entry of president putin and russia into syria and the sass add regime, it means for russia and saudi arabia, that a full on war against the assad regime, if it's backed by not just iran, but a world power like russia, is not a feasible option, so they have to explore other avenues, including the political one. >> let's talk about more issues when we come back. guests, stay with us. and even though iran has said that it may walk away from the
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talks, the conclusion has been treated as a major milestone. and what about the russians? and why different mixed messages from different parts of the leadership when it comes to tehran? the road to damascus, the "inside story."
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>> welcome back to "inside story," i'm ray suarez. we're looking at the latest developments in the ongoing syrian civil war with paul salem of the institute. and barbara slavin. what about the russians? iis their participation showing that they are now a combatant. >> absolutely. they come with many more cards to play because of their escalating military involvement in syria. >> it doesn't undermine them in
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any way that they're clearly pull on one side, and have also been accused of kind of double dealing, announcing that they're attacking is ill positions and not doing anything of the sort. it's more complicated than taking the high road might be. >> absolutely, but it was pretty clear from the start that they were there to bolster the assad regime. and the question is, does it give them more cards in terms of a political solution? yes, and does it strengthen assad in terms of a political solution? yes. and my concern is frankly that the kinds of suggestion that's we're hearing from the iranians and the russians won't solve the problem at all. they're talking about an election whereas add would get to run. >> he won handily the last time. >> with four or five million people outside of the country, and millions displaced, i'm not sure that it's a solution that
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i would assess. >> does iran coming in, and being sort of shoulder to shoulder with the russians on the maintenance of assad, create some pressure on iran from russia? if iran is git be at the table, needs somebody who is a little bit more predictable than the governments in iran have been for years? >> first of all, i would underline that the iranian and russian relationship is pretty profound. it's a partnership, good realizations with tehran back in syria, and making overtures there. it's very close to president prt sisi in egypt, so it's a big game changer in the middle east. russia and iran are the same on many issues in syria, but not everything. they both agree on their
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hostility to isis and agree that the state and regime as it is currently has to be bolstered and supported. but it's possible that down the road they might differ. iran sees itself as a protecter of the shiites. and president putin is more interested in building the syrian state. and reestablishing state sovereignty in the middle east and take the rug out from actors in isis. and election, russia is interested in bolstering the syrian army, with which it has decades of regulations, and iran wants to work with the militias, like hezbollah, and like the militia that they have to support in syria. so there could be a parting of the ways, but currently, their physician is that the fight against terrorism must take absolute priority, and after they defeat the terrorists, we can talk about the politics of
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syria, which means an election before we talk about transition, and president putin has made it clear that he's not willing at all to talk about -- the fate of president of state should not be on international negotiating table. he says it's up to the syrian people. >> and all source and military intelligence guy with long years in that part of the world dropped me a line. now that the russians are in, you watch, assad and his allies will control all of western syria soon. whawhat do you make of that. >> i'm not an expert on the military ground in syria. >> but it's plausible? >> the forces have been gaining and it's clear what their objective is, and that's their objective. that's why they have not been attacking isis but all of these different groups, that had managed to establish themes in
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homes in appello. and it's also their objective. it's not likely that syria is going to be a unified coherent country again in the near future. which means that assad will hold on to damascus and the west and the coast and the typical stronghold. >> i want to thank my guests, paul salem and barbara slavin. i'll be back with politics stopping on the water's edge. >> coming up at 7 p.m. eastern, hot on the ballot, voters decide if recreational marijuana will be legal, and if a handful of people will profit. the airline crash in egypt, the cockpit records are telling investigators about the final moment. and plus, the keystone pipeline, on hold.
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>> this has been a peculiar time in washington. you may remember that the president stopped an effort to get congressional support for american military intervention in syria, when it was soundly rented by members. this country, you may recall, had been at war in iraq and afghanistan for almost a decade and it was wary of another intervention in another muslim country in the middle east. backing so-called moderate forces that did not want to create another islamic republic in the region was thought of as the soft profit option. send supplies and don't send american men and women. over time, they it started to lose ground and bicker over a military structure.
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it has always been exaggerated how easy it would be to intervene effectively to push assad aside and the islamic state or both. what has been fascinating, the relish and delight of president obama's enemies, in the administration's missteps and out and out failures in syria. you might have thought that the future of such a critical part of the world was enough in hoping coming darned close to president obama failing was at least a little risky. there's one hero to sum on the american right, who has emerged from the brutal and intractable syrian conflict. vladimir putin, i don't know if it's the judo or shirtless horsemanship, or support for a brutal dictator without caring what anyone else thinks. putin has been the man of action that americans who don't like their current president
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like best of all. i'm ray suarez, this is "inside story" and the news continues right now. >> this is aljazeera america live from new york city. i'm richelle carey. and tony harris is on assignment. monopoly on legal station, and what is called a legal cartel. $70 million fines. the u.s. hits exploding airbags. and the keystone project might be delayed until after the next presidential electio

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