Last month, Iran and the United States shook
hands and agreed to disagree on the long-contentious issue of
containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, for now. But their willingness to
keep calm and carry on seeking a deal after the seven-country talks
fell through was more significant than their predicted failure.
The absence of finger-pointing shows how the Mideast landscape has shifted since the rise of the Islamic State, which has killed its way across Syria and Iraq in pursuit of a caliphate, dissolving borders in its wake.
“If we consider that the U.S. supported a
Shia government in Iraq, has not intervened in Syria and is more or less
reconciled to Assad in power, I’d say it has significantly shifted the
balance,” says Geneive Abdo, a Sunni-Shia expert at the Stimson Center
The rise of the Islamic State has made it
more difficult to topple Assad, who is now on the same side as the West
against Sunni extremists. And, says Abdo, Shiite Hezbollah, which was
condemned for sending forces to defend Assad, is “vindicated” in its
home base, Lebanon, where its support had been steadily slipping.
In Iraq, where the Islamic State made rapid
gains, the country is fractured along deepening sectarian lines. “Tribal
leaders say they don’t agree with its ideology or how the religion is
interpreted,” says Abdo, who recently returned from the region. “But
they believe if something isn’t done the Sunni will continue to be
excluded and discriminated against economically.” Once considered an
ally of Washington against Al Qaeda — a forerunner of the Islamic State —
they are, tentatively, in the militants’ camp.
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