Kerry: No Room in Anti-ISIS Coalition for Iran: They’re ‘On Their Own’

Patrick Goodenough | September 11, 2014 | 4:27am EDT
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Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hasan Rouhani. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that “almost every single country on earth has a role to play” in the coalition being built against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), but on Wednesday he signaled that there is no room in the initiative for Iran.

Asked in Baghdad if the U.S. was willing to work with Iran to defeat a group both countries view as a threat, Kerry replied that Iran was “obviously opposed to ISIL” and had “taken its own actions with respect to ISIL,” but stressed that there was no coordination between the U.S. and Iran.

“The United States does not cooperate, militarily or otherwise – nor does it have any intention in this process of doing so – with Iran,” said Kerry, who is in the region to bolster support for a broad anti-ISIS coalition.

“Whatever they [the Iranians] do is collateral and on their own,” he said. “And we will pursue our own coalition over the course of these next weeks.”

The notion that the U.S. would consider collaborating with Iran against the ISIS threat has roused some strong opinions, both in the U.S. and other countries deeply suspicious of Iran, ranging from Israel to Saudi Arabia.

Critics in Congress and elsewhere have pointed out that the Shi’ite regime in Tehran leads the world in sponsoring terrorism, warning that cooperating with it would boost its regional influence and strengthen its hand in the ongoing negotiations over its nuclear program. (Iran’s foreign minister late last month offered to help in the fight against ISIS in return for a lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.)

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made headlines earlier this week by describing Iran in an NPR interview as a “bigger problem than ISIS” for the U.S.

Kerry’s response to the question on Wednesday contrasted to his approach back in June, at a time when ISIS’ rapid advance across northern Iraq was setting off alarm bells around the world.

Then he said in an interview with Yahoo News that the administration was “open to discussions if there’s something constructive that can be contributed by Iran.” Asked whether that could include military cooperation against ISIS he replied, “I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability.”

State Department officials have since then repeatedly played down the possibility of cooperation, either with Iran or the Assad regime, arguing that “the enemy of your enemy is not your friend.”

‘Double standards’

On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was asked whether the U.S. would accept as helpful whatever steps the Iranians take against ISIS.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” she said. “We wouldn’t support any support to illegal [Shi’ite] militias in Iraq.”

Harf also noted that weapons transfers from Iran are prohibited (under an arms embargo imposed by a U.N. Security Council in 2007.)

Asked whether any country – apart from the Assad regime – was specifically excluded from participating in the coalition against ISIS, she called it a “good question” and said she would check.

In the Saudi city of Jeddah on Thursday, Kerry is taking part in a conference on the ISIS threat, together with representatives from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

After the conference was announced a Russian diplomat complained that the participants did not include Russia and its allies, Iran and Syria.

The guest list was “incomplete, because it does not include all parties fighting terrorism,” said Russia’s ambassador to Beirut, Alexander Zasypkin.

Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar quoted him as saying that the West acts “as if it is the only concerned party, and not an issue for the international community as a whole.”

If the U.S. and the West “plan to fight terrorism seriously, they should steer away from adopting double standards and work to unite the ranks and not create factions.”

Asked about Zasypkin’s comments, Harf said the Saudi-hosted conference was a meeting of “declared GCC partners.”

There would be others relating to the ISIS issue, she said, including a meeting of the U.N. Security Council which Obama will host on the question of foreign fighters, which Russia as a council member would likely attend.

“But we are not going to work with the Assad regime to fight ISIS, we’ve been clear about that,” Harf said.

“And when it comes to Iran, we’re not going to be coordinating with them. We are open to having conversations with them, but I don’t have any preview for you on what that might look like.”

In his prime time speech on tackling the ISIS threat, Obama on Wednesday night did not mention Iran or Russia (except in the context of Ukraine), but he did once again rule out cooperating with the Syrian government.

“In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people – a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost,” he said.

“Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”

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