Harold Brown was US defense secretary under President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The US should consider including Iran in any Syrian peace or chemical weapons negotiations, according to Harold Brown, President Jimmy Carter’s defense secretary.
“Have a negotiating table that includes ... [the US], the Russians, the Iranians, the Saudis, and inevitably you would have to involve both the Syrian government and some of the opposition, but in peripheral ways,” Brown said in a wide-ranging Sept. 16 interview.
Negotiations also would need to include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Brown said.
“I doubt that that will happen ... because everybody’s interests are very different,” he said.
The US has been threatening a punitive strike against the Syrian government, which Western allies say is responsible for using chemical weapons that killed about 1,500 civilians.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sept. 18 that a United Nations report found Assad used sarin gas in an August attack. Syria has been ravaged by a civil war for more than two years.
A US-led military strike — in response to the alleged chemical attacks — has been on hold while a diplomatic solution is sought.
The US and Russia have ironed out a deal that would allow for international control and eventual destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
But Brown said he is pessimistic these efforts will be entirely successful and doubts Assad will cooperate.
“[Y]ou cannot do it in a year ... [and] there is a war going on,” Brown said. “Who is going to do the job of checking and then disposing of the chemical warfare stocks, and personal checking that they have all the sites, and actually disposing of them, which is a complicated and dangerous business in the middle of a war?”
Russia has defended Assad and has provided weapons to the Syrian military.
“[Assad] is not the most attractive leader to continue to defend, though I think in the immediate [future], the Russians will continue,” Richard Murphy, a US ambassador to Syria in the 1970s, said in a Sept. 19 call with reporters. “There is more question now about the Iranian attitude, which we’ll see how that plays.”
Brown said he feels heading down the current diplomatic path is better than the US conducting a punitive strike on Syria. Still, Brown said he would favor arming the anti-Assad forces; however, there will be a difficulty in identifying them.
“I think we probably can provide some arms to some trusted people,” he said. “But I doubt that they are going to be strong enough to be the ultimate winners in this.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sept. 19 he was confident but not 100 percent sure that Syria would carry out its commitments to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles under a Russia-US agreement.
“Will we manage to carry it through? I can’t say 100 percent, but all that we have seen recently, in the last few days, inspires confidence that it is possible and that it will be done,” Putin said at a meeting of the Valdai international discussion club with Western politicians and journalists in Russia’s northwestern Novgorod region.
Assad’s regime was already putting into practice the proposals announced by Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Sept. 14. The framework agreement agreed to by the two countries calls for Syria to hand over all of its chemical weapons for destruction by mid-2014.
“Will we manage to convince Assad or not? I don’t know,” Putin said. “But so far, everything looks as if Syria has fully agreed with our proposal and is ready to act according to the plan that is being developed by the international community at the United Nations.”
In a first step, Syria has announced it will abide by the terms of the international ban on chemical weapons, Putin said. “These are practical steps that the Syrian government has already taken.”
The US has insisted that the threat of force should remain on the table should Syria fail to comply with the agreement.
“If the attempts to resolve the problem peacefully aren’t successful, this will be extremely bad,” Putin acknowledged.
But he insisted that only the UN Security Council could discuss the question of whether to use force against Syria.
The Russian leader, whose government is Syria’s most powerful ally, insisted it is not proven who was behind the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Ghouta that killed hundreds of people, including many children.
“It’s clear that [chemical] arms were used. ... It’s just not clear who did it,” he said. “We talk all the time about the responsibility of the Assad regime if he used them. But what if the opposition used them? No one says what we will do with the opposition then, and this is not an idle question.”
Putin also warned Washington against supporting rebel forces, saying it would have to deal with the consequences of helping al-Qaida-linked fighters.
Agence France-Press contributed to this report.