WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday acknowledged that cooperation from Iran will be necessary for any future resolution of the civil war in Syria, which is now in its fifth year.
“I do agree that we’re not going to solve the problems in Syria unless there’s buy-in from the Russians, Iranians, Turks and our Gulf partners,” he said during a press conference at the White House. “There’s too much money and too many arms flooding into the zone.”
The war in Syria, initially fought between President Bashar Assad and opposition fighters, has devolved into an increasingly intractable conflict including the Islamic State and Al Qaeda-linked groups. Iran contributes funds, weapons and soldiers to the Syrian regime through its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, while Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are backing various opposition groups.
The U.S. is also engaged in a small-scale effort to fund and train vetted “moderate” members of the Syrian opposition to fight the Islamic State. Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month that the $500 million “train and equip” program run by the Pentagon had only 60 candidates. Critics in Congress attribute the low rate of recruitment to U.S. refusal to protect its trainees from attacks from Assad.
The Obama administration has long held the position that Assad has lost legitimacy as the ruler of Syria, but has been hesitant to overtly orchestrate his ouster -- in part because it is unclear who would be a suitable replacement. “In order for us to resolve [the conflict], there’s going to have to be an agreement among major powers that are interested in Syria that this is not going to be won on the battlefield. So, Iran is one of those players, and I think it’s important for them to be part of that conversation.”
Obama’s remarks came the day after he told The New York Times, “The truth of the matter is that Iran will be and should be a regional power.” On Wednesday, however, he was quick to add that he did not anticipate the restoration of normal diplomatic relations with Iran.