Changing US-Iran Relations: Kerry: Iran has a Role in Defeating ISIL Militants

by Juan Cole

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Iran has a role to play in defeating ISIL. Addressing a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, he said that the military alliance put together by the US and its allies is only one part of the task, and that the other is political. He seemed to suggest a role for Iran in that political settlement. He mentioned that the Iranian Foreign Minister was present.

On Monday, Kerry had ruled out military coordination with Iran.

In addition, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke admitted on Friday that Washington discussed the Iraq situation with Iranian representatives on the margins of the conference about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The two sides talked about the threat ISIL poses.

The Obama administration’s willingness to talk to Iran about some sort of joint effort in Iraq against ISIL is historic. In this regard, the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and that of Obama are not talking like enemies but rather like some sort of ally.

US hard liners in Congress and Iranian hard liners in the Revolutionary Guards continue to use the old rhetoric of enmity, and may attempt to find ways of sabotaging any budding thaw in Washington-Tehran relations. But it seems increasingly clear that Obama and Kerry think some sort of opening to Iran is both necessary and possible at this juncture.

The relationship is complicated because while the US is de facto an ally of Iran in Iraq against ISIL, in Syria the two sides are backing different victors (Iran favors the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad while other donors have settled on .

On Thursday, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif explained that the US alliance in Syria with rebels against the Baath government of Bashar al-Assad was the reason Iran could not ally with the US. Mr. Kerry is nevertheless courting Tehran.


Related video added by Juan Cole

Reuters: “US: There is a role for Iran in tackling Islamic State militants”

10 Responses

  1. Juan, I read these remarks in the familiar context of “Iran has a role to play if it changes course on Syria and backs regime change.”

    This was the same context that Kerry previously had said Iran could join Geneva II Conference on Syria, if they were to accept the U.S. (and not Russian) interpretation of the final communique for Geneva I Conference on Syria

  2. And Israel and the I lobby continue to repeat unsubstantiated and inflammatory claims about Iran. Still no one in the mainstream media brings up that Iran signed the NPT has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. That Israel continues to refuse to sign the NPT and the Chemical Weapons Treaty. Lopsided coverage still in this day and age.

  3. At end of 2nd-last paragraph:

    “(Iran favors the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad while other donors have settled on .”

    An incomplete thought, should obviously be something along the lines of “settled on various factions of Assad’s opposition.”

  4. Coinciding interests don’t necessarily make allies. Just the fact that Iran also want to see ISIS defeated helps. If the US was serious about getting rid of Assad, it would still be necessary to take care of the more immediate threat, ISIS, first…

    • This reminds me of a forgotten story from 1940.
      The West regarded Stalin’s co-invasion of Poland, conquest of the Baltic states and invasion of Finland as being as evil as Hitler’s actions. Britain and France prepared to send help to Finland against the USSR. Hitler’s invasion of France prevented the catastrophe of having the Western democracies simultaneously at war with Hitler and Stalin – which would have created a Hell that peaceniks are incapable of comprehending.

      But this shows what happens when you try to get too finicky about accepting the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, that bloody regime in Syria is now Stalin to ISIS’ Hitler. Though it would be closer to the truth to substitute Iran for the former proxy and the Arab monarchies for the latter.

  5. QUOTE 1: Washington Post, February 2014: “Secretary of State John F. Kerry told Iran’s foreign minister Sunday that the United States will continue to enforce existing sanctions on Iran while bargaining over a deal to rein in Iran’s disputed nuclear program.”

    QUOTE 2: Juan Cole, September 2014: “Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Iran has a role to play in defeating ISIL.”

    Here we go again….”The enemy of my enemy is my friend”: The history of this pathetic attempt at policy is a history of failure.

    1. 1986: Saddam Hussein is the ally of the USA (war with Iran).
    2. 2003: Saddam Hussein is the enemy of the USA (US invasion).
    3. 1989: Osama bin Laden is the ally of the USA (Afghanistan).
    4. 2001: Osama bin Laden is the enemy of the USA (New York).
    5. 2011+: Iran is the enemy of the USA (alleged nukes).
    6. Now: Iran is the ally of the USA (ISIL threat).

    When will the USA develop a COHERENT foreign policy? A policy based on shifting alliances and the short term reliance on “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been a catastrophic and very expensive choice of policy.

    • It’s coherent — just follow the money. The shifting-alliances stuff is often just window dressing to cover the shifting advantages of various corporate players and of course a military thingie that needs a place to practice and “deployments” to justify “procurements” of weapons systems that in the field, in 4th gen space, are big FAILS.

  6. Kerry and his meaningless spouts of pure idiocy. Of course Iran has a role to play but certainly not one prescribed by the US. In my view, Iran ought to defend it’s own borders and the hell with the nonsense coming out of US mouthpieces and warmongering.
    Actually, the US owes Iraq many billions of dollars for the trouble they’ve caused with their infantile ‘thinking’.

    It owes Libya many billions for it’s interdiction and creation of a war internal to Libya and stealing away the wealth that was in the population of Libya as well as in the oil now thieved by the corporation interests of the US and friends.

    The USA owes Syria huge because its self evident that Syria, though having some demonstrations, was politically more sound that the US is when we judge by demonstrations and heavy-handedness by the police.

    The problem with the West is that they blame the Arab peoples when the fault is not the Arabs but the situations created by US interests.

  7. The non-enemy, ally-type discussions between Iran and US is not very historic, considering past alliances such as on Bosnia and containing Afghanistan or Iraq, for only for the US to turn around and stab Iran after each help. Even the current situations, quoted correctly in the article, highlights the contradictions and describes how all of this alignment is temporary, nothing more.

  8. “Opening” to Iran in this case may be one of the smartest moves we could make at this time. It could very well lead to just enough of a thaw to make other “transactional” (at least) elements between Iran and the “West” easier. The leadership in Iran won’t be around that much longer. (Everyone ages and passes on.) There are many young people in Iran who long for peace and better relations with the rest of the world. And, it doesn’t seem wise for the U.S. or other countries to be seen siding too much with either Sunni or Shia versions of believers. The wars and tensions are complicated enough as it is. Do we have any real knowledge whether Iran really loves the President of Syria all that much, or is it more that they are worried about stability?

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