It’s hard to be a Friend of Syria

It’s hard to be a Friend of Syria

It has been a tough week for Turkish diplomats, who are trying to hammer out a result from this weekend’s ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Istanbul.

To be frank, it’s not only diplomats; Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gives utmost importance to it and pushes personally to get something more than words at the end of the day. He talked to U.S. President Barack Obama during the nuclear summit in Seoul and then to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran about Syria and the Istanbul meeting last week.

But it is hard to get reasonable support from Iran, because of a number of reasons. First, Iran is not invited to the Istanbul meeting. Second, the Shiite regime in Iran sees its religious cousin Nusayri government in Syria as the strongest ally in the region; a bastion ‘against Zionism’ (that means Israel) as Ahmadinejad says. And third, giving support to Iran’s nuclear energy program as long as it remains peaceful (about which he said he was relieved by the assurances of Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei), Erdoğan gave instruction to reduce oil imports from Iran by 20 percent on Friday, in parallel with the U.S. sanctions because of the same program.

But Iran is only a part of the problem. Russia is the biggest factor on moving forward toward a kind of action plan to force the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus to stop using violence on his own people who are asking for more rights. When al-Assad gets out of Homs where his army has been bombing for months now, TV viewers all around the world could have the chance to see the degree of devastation the city and its people have been suffering. For Russia too, Syria is the strongest and perhaps the last ally in the Middle East region; a stepping stone as well as a naval base in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Moscow, followed by China, stops any action which might lead to any kind of action plan against al-Assad in the United Nations and perhaps the only reason for Dimitry Medvedev to support the plan of Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, now envoy for the U.N.-Arab League initiative is because it has been diluted down to a point which could mean nothing but words.

That is why the Erdoğan government is not comfortable with the Annan plan, despite having to support it as a sign of solidarity with the Arab League.

The league’s meeting in Baghdad last Thursday brought merely nothing new with a rather low turnout. Many think that al-Assad’s timing of accepting the Annan plan only gave him more time to carry on what he has been doing for almost a year now and let Russia say to all other parties that they should wait to understand whether the plan would work.

Russia is not attending the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, like China. The U.S., which is to be represented by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (like the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and others), does not want to exhaust their chances now, especially when the Syrian opposition based mainly in Turkey could not get itself together to raise a unified voice yet.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will certainly press hard to get as much as he can get for a Turkish thesis to intervene to help the Syrian opposition, but the circumstances do not help him much, at least for now.