Mixed Response to Ahmadinejad Re-election

While some say hardline foreign policies are good for Syria, others favour ending strategic alliance with Iran.

Mixed Response to Ahmadinejad Re-election

While some say hardline foreign policies are good for Syria, others favour ending strategic alliance with Iran.

Tuesday, 23 June, 2009
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in Iran’s disputed election will mean enhanced security in the region for Damascus, say some analysts and Syrian officials.



Many welcomed the incumbent’s re-election, arguing that Ahmadinejad’s foreign policies would mean greater protection for Syria against foreign influence.



However, others say that maintaining a close relationship with the hardline leader could harm Damascus’s recent attempts to open dialogue with regional and international powers and negotiate a more moderate position in the region.



On June 12, the conservative Ahmadinejad, who enjoys the support of Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, won the Iranian presidential election with almost 63 per cent of the vote, according to official figures.



Since then, supporters of his reformist challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi – who is said to have taken close to 34 per cent of the votes – have protested against the results, accusing the interior ministry of fraud.



Demonstrations by some 3,000 people in Tehran have been crushed violently by the Iranian police. The BBC reported that according to eye-witness reports, crowds the size of those at the June 15 opposition rally have not been seen in Tehran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.



As the fallout from the elections continues in Iran, Syrian reactions to the results have been mixed.



The official newspaper Al-Ba’ath said in its June 15 edition that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was a victory both for Iran and the Iranian people.



In an op-ed piece in the daily, Shawkat Abu Fakher said Iranians supported Ahmadinejad’s foreign policies, and urged all Arab states to follow the Syrian model and build strong relations with the Islamic republic.



He argued that an alliance with Iran would guarantee security in the region and protect it from foreign “aggressions and interventions”, a reference to the West and to Israel.



Iran has been engaged in a standoff with the West over its nuclear arms programme for many years.



While the new United States administration has expressed its willingness to engage in a dialogue with the Islamic republic, so far Tehran has refused to give up its nuclear ambitions.



In July 2006, Syria was the first and only Arab state to sign a major defence treaty with the Iranians and ties between the two nations have developed since the Islamic revolution 20 years ago.



These proved particularly strong when the Ba’ath regime supported the Iranians in their 1980–1988 war against Iraq.



According to Imad Ghalyoun, a member of the Syrian parliament who is close to the ruling Ba’ath party, Damascus would benefit from what he said was the Iranian leader’s “hawkish” foreign policy.



Ahmadinejad is defending the interests of the region threatened by the US and Israel, he said.



Ghalyoun added that Iran and Syria’s “long-term and strategic” ties are based on solid cooperation between institutions from both countries, and exist no matter who leads Iran.



Nidal Naisseh, a Damascus-based political analyst, also said that it was in the interest of both nations to retain a united front in the face of the western powers and their allies in the region.



But other experts disagreed.



Hussein Owaidat, a Damascus-based political analyst, argued that Ahmadinejad’s unbending stance towards the West could hamper Syria’s efforts to open a dialogue with it.



“Syrian policy cannot benefit from Ahmadinejad’s challenging tone and extremist stances,” he said.



Damascus is far less isolated at the international level than it was before and is subsequently leaning towards more a moderate position regarding Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, and is also favourable towards negotiating peace with the Israelis, he said.



Observers say that western powers have been trying to lure Damascus away from its alliance with Tehran.



Breaking with his predecessor George W Bush’s tough stance towards Syria, US president Barack Obama has begun to open channels of communication with the Syrians.



In an important move welcomed by Damascus, Obama sent his special envoy for peace in the Middle East George Mitchell to the Syrian capital on June 13.



Syria, meanwhile, has expressed its desire to involve Washington in peace talks with Israel.



Ghalyoun said, however, that Washington has not still started a “serious dialogue” with the Syrians nor offered solutions for Palestinian problems, despite the visits of US officials to Damascus.



Meanwhile, Syrians remain divided over relations between Iran and Syria, following Ahmadinejad’s re-election.



Hala Mahala, a 29-year-old teacher from Damascus, said that she was not in favour of strong bonds between her country and the Islamic republic.



She explained that it was in Syria’s economic interest to develop its ties with the West even if this was at the expense of its friendship with Iran.



But Mahmoud Ahmadi, a 41-year-old resident of the capital, said that his country should maintain its alliance with Tehran, without offering any concessions to the West.
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