Iran key to resolving region’s conflicts

Tom Koenigs – Friday, November 2, 2012 – SFGate – The Arab people are inspiring the world with their aspirations for human rights and democracy, yet they still have a long way to go. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are struggling. The Syrian people are suffering from brutal war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Against the backdrop of the Arab revolution, the Iranian regime has tightened its grip on human-rights activists. Members of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, which was founded in Tehran by Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, have been persecuted. Abdolfattah Soltani, winner of the 2012 International Bar Association Human Rights award and of the 2009 Nuremberg Human Rights award, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for co-founding the human rights center. Five of his colleagues, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, have been convicted, imprisoned or otherwise prosecuted. Nevertheless, to resolve conflicts in the Middle East and to improve the human rights situation, the international community must talk with all regional powers – most importantly, Iran. Iran’s significance cannot be ignored.

Indeed, constructive involvement of Iran is key to finding a solution in Afghanistan and Syria. The conflicts in those nations have two things in common: First, both only can be resolved through cooperation and mutual efforts, not war. Second, neighboring countries and regional powers have to be engaged in those solutions. Iran already has shown a high degree of cooperation in Afghanistan. In spite of having the possibility to act as a spoiler, the Iranian regime has done a lot to rebuild security on its border with Afghanistan. The Iranian government has been investing politically and economically to achieve stability, yet its constructive role in the region has never been recognized by the international community.

For example, Iran has opposed the Taliban from the beginning. Iran has tolerated with little protest NATO-led military operations in its backyard.

Iran has taken in more than 3 million Afghan refugees in the past decade and is still hosting more than 1 million refugees from Afghanistan. By providing shelter for refugees on such a large scale, Iran avoids spillover effects of the Afghan conflict into the region. Moreover, Iran is providing jobs for 1.5 million to 2 million Afghan immigrants who send money home, thereby supporting the Afghan economy. In Syria, we are witnessing a war of terrible brutality. No durable solution to the Syrian civil war can be achieved without engaging Iran in negotiations and peace talks. The world has witnessed the high price the Syrian people are paying for their demand for human rights, freedom and democracy: More than 33,000 people have been killed in the ongoing conflict, among them at least 23,600 civilians.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is ordering the shelling of residential areas and the killing of peaceful protesters. He has approved torture, unspeakable atrocities and sexual violence, even against children. Given these gross human rights violations, Assad should be tried before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Yet no one in the Middle East has more influence on Assad than the Iranian regime. Kofi Annan, the former U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, always has stressed that talks with all regional and internal powers are the key to a lasting peace. His resignation from that post was a wake-up call, addressed not only to Russia and China, but also to the United States for its lack of support in involving all players in the region. The U.N. secretary-general should insist that Lakhdar Brahimi, who replaced Annan, negotiate with Iran to help pursue a Syrian peace. Brahimi already has traveled to Tehran for meetings. By not talking with Iran, the Western community is gambling away its influence over the key actor in the Middle East. Economic sanctions against Iran have little effect, and a military attack is beyond all sanity and reason.

Conflicts can only be solved by means of cooperation, and the United Nations is the appropriate forum to bring Iran to the negotiating table. Peace talks and diplomatic solutions will only be achieved by including all regional powers – both potential spoilers and potential stabilizers.

Tom Koenigs is a member of the German parliament and chairman of the committee on human rights and humanitarian aid. Send your feedback to us through our online form at

Read more: