Jay Newton-Small floats the idea:
When I was there late last summer, it was clear that Iranians weren’t particularly happy with Tehran’s unwavering support of Syria. Most of the bazaari wanted to see the money flowing to Syria spent instead propping up Iran’s faltering currency and economy. Add to that Assad’s use of chemical weapons, which are much reviled in Iran, and Rouhani might find popular support to weaken, if not break ties with Assad. And Iran might just be the only country Assad would listen to if they asked him to step aside. It is in both Washington and Tehran’s interests to prevent a failed state in Syria, and to stop Sunni radical al Qaeda factions from taking over the country. Such cooperation has been done before: Iran was a key ally in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, an Iranian neighbor, and with the toppling of the Taliban.
Packer also raises the possibility of Iran and the US working together:
Some Iranians point to the Bonn Conference of 2001—where Iran and the U.S. coöperated in the formation of an Afghan government, after the fall of their mutual enemy, the Taliban—as a model for what might take place with Syria. The U.S. and Iran have a common interest: preventing Salafi extremists, affiliated with Al Qaeda, from gaining power in the region. If this appeared probable in Syria, Iran might be willing to drop its support for Assad in exchange for a face-saving transition, backed by Turkey, Jordan, and the Gulf states: a ceasefire, a peacekeeping force made up of Muslim troops from the region, protections for Alawites and other minorities, U.N.-sponsored elections, and exile in a comfortable dacha for the Assad family.
None of this is likely.
It would take imaginative diplomacy of the kind that the Administration has shown little taste for in the Middle East. Iran would have to be convinced that it can’t win but also that it needn’t lose, and this would not be possible without deeper American engagement.
Judis nevertheless hopes for a diplomatic solution:
In Ha’aretz, Zvi Bar’el reports that Iran and Russia are working on a compromise proposal that could forestall an American attack on Syria. It would consist of a transfer of power in Syria in stages that would culminate in an election in which Bashar al Assad would not run and the transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal to Russia or another country. … Who knows whether these proposals are genuine, but they could represent a constructive way out of the current morass.
And that, it appears, is what just happened. And this moment might offer Obama an opening with the new administration in Tehran – an opening we all desperately need to avoid another war in the region.
(Photo: Iranian President Hassan Rowhani attends a session of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran on September 3, 2013. Iran’s Assembly of Experts is a body that selects the supreme leader and supervises his activities. By Mehrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images.)