INTERVIEW | “Great Powers Unable to Forge a Coherent Strategy to Deal with Syrian Crisis” – Dr. Sumit Ganguly
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INTERVIEW | “Great Powers Unable to Forge a Coherent Strategy to Deal with Syrian Crisis” – Dr. Sumit Ganguly

Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with Dr. Sumit Ganguly
By Kourosh Ziabari

On July 14, Iran and the group of six world powers – comprising China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – reached a comprehensive agreement that drew a happy end to over a decade of exhausting tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. The deal would ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Tehran’s nuclear activities and in return, terminate all the nuclear-related sanctions placed on Iran.

Image Attribute: Dr. Sumit Ganguly, Professor of Political Science, Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations. at Indiana University / Source:

Image Attribute: Dr. Sumit Ganguly, Professor of Political Science, Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations. at Indiana University / Source:

International observers expect that in the light of the nuclear agreement, Iran and the United States would initiate some limited cooperation to address the Syrian crisis and extinguish the flames of destruction and bloodshed that have engulfed the Arab country for some five years now. This is while a large number of Middle East scholars and researchers, including Prof. Sumit Ganguly, believe the great powers have been simply unable to forge strategies that would lead to the resolution of the spiraling calamity in Syria.

Also on the chances for the successful enforcement of the Iran deal, Sumit Ganguly maintains that a lot depends on the decisions made by Tehran in abiding by its commitments set out in the JCPOA, and also the choice of the American people in the 2016 presidential election, and whether a moderate Democrat like Hillary Clinton will rise to power or a hardliner Republican such as Ted Cruz.

Sumit Ganguly is a Professor of Political Science at Indiana University and holds the university’s Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations. As an author and commentator, his writings have appeared in such journals and magazines as The Diplomat, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Security, Journal of Democracy, Washington Quarterly, and World Politics Review. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Prof. Ganguly has authored a number of books on India’s politics, foreign relations and economy.

In this interview with Iran Review, Prof. Sumit Ganguly expanded on his viewpoints concerning the hurdles ahead of Iran-U.S. rapprochement, the importance of the unhindered implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran-India relations and the continued mayhem and morass created by the Islamic State (Daesh) in Syria and Iraq.

Q: The neo-conservative pundits and public figures in the U.S. had been vocally professing from the beginning of the negotiations of Iran and the P5+1 in September 2013 that the talks would end in failure and no nuclear deal would be struck. However, it turned out to be unfounded as Iran and the six world powers finally reached a comprehensive agreement. Now, they’re propagating this idea that the nuclear deal will fail in the implementation phase. Why do you think they’re so cynical about the deal with Iran and a possible thaw in Tehran-Washington relations?

A: There reasons are complex. Some of them genuinely believe that Iran cannot be trusted to adhere to the terms of the accord. Some are in the continuing thrall of Saudi Arabia and some believe that because Iran cannot be trusted it poses an unacceptable threat to Israel. These various factors explain their intransigence toward Iran.

Q: How much do the domestic political dynamics of Iran and the United States influence the implementation of the nuclear deal? The United States will have a new president next year, and in 2017, there will be a presidential vote in Iran. With this in mind, do you think the future presidents in the United States and Iran will cling to the commitments spelled out in the nuclear deal and continue honoring it?

A: I do not know enough about the domestic politics of Iran to provide a firm, definitive answer. That said, given the many benefits that the agreement is likely to confer on Iran, my suspicion is that hardliners who oppose the deal are likely to find themselves increasingly marginalized. In the U.S., of course, much depends on the outcome of the 2016 election. If one of the hardline conservatives like Cruz or Rubio is elected, the future of the agreement could well be in much jeopardy.

Q: Now, we have this landmark nuclear accord, which is about to be enforced. Two years from now, how do you see the state of Iran-U.S. relations and the nuclear deal?

A: The future in considerable measure will depend on Iran’s compliance with the expectations of the agreement, its willingness to abide by various existing United Nations resolutions and its readiness to eschew support for Hezbollah. On the American side a great deal will depend on who gets elected in 2016. If Clinton assumes office and Iran does not undertake any actions that could jeopardize the implementation of the accord, I see a distinct possibility of a significant thaw in relations.

Q: So, one question on the Iran-India ties in this new period of Iran’s foreign relations. India has traditionally sought close and robust economic ties with Iran, and tried to strengthen these relations following the conclusion of the nuclear agreement. Over the past few months, there were several visits by the Iranian officials to India, and vice-versa. How is Delhi going to benefit from revived trade with Tehran in the post-sanctions period?

A: Indian interests in Iran go beyond the quest for investments and trade. Specifically, the Indians are interested in ensuring uninterrupted supplies of oil and natural gas, in ensuring that Iran works with India in stabilizing Afghanistan and that Islamic extremism does not take hold in India. It would also like to get access to light engineering projects in Iran. However, its ability to secure these could easily be undermined by the Chinese if not the Europeans.

Q: Let’s digress to a contentious concern. Since the late 1960s, proposals have been put forward by Iran and countries as Egypt on the introduction of a nuclear-free Middle East zone. What are the requirements in your view for the establishment of a Middle East nuclear weapons free zone (MENWFZ)? Will the regional states including Israel abide by the provisions of such a plan?

A: Quite frankly, this is a project that has little or no future. Israel will not give up its nuclear weapons regardless of what regime is in power. The vast majority of Israelis see their nuclear arsenal as the ultimate deterrent and as a strategic hedge. The U.S., which is a staunch Israeli ally, will exert no pressure on Israel to forgo its nuclear weapons.

Q: Finally, what’s your take on the current crisis in the Middle East as it escalates through the conflicts between the ISIS terrorists and the governments of Syria and Iraq, in fighting of the forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, foreign intervention and the apparent inability of the international community to put an end to bloodshed and violence in the region?

A: The roots of the current crisis are complex. They have to do with the disastrous occupation of Iraq following the ouster of Saddam. More specifically it has to do with the disbandment of the Iraqi Army, the blatant ethnic partisanship of Nouri al-Maliki, Saudi Arabia’s willingness to fuel Sunni Islamist extremism and of course, the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. Unfortunately, the great powers have proven unable to forge a common, coherent strategy to deal with the unfolding crisis. Sadly, for the foreseeable future I do see more bloodshed on the horizon.

This interview excerpt was originally published at 
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