Further decline in ties with Iran in sight over Syria

Further decline in ties with Iran in sight over Syria

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had important guests in two separate delegations late Oct. 17: a senior Hamas official met him at his residence in an unannounced meeting to arrange details of the trip of 10 Hamas prisoners, including the logistical needs of the group during their stay in Turkey. Davutoğlu also met with representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC) in a first official meeting with the Syrian opposition since Turkey announced that it would no longer talk to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Both meetings point at critical days ahead that will eventually place Turkey in a pivotal role in regional developments. As the Hamas deal and Turkey’s acceptance of a small group of Hamas prisoners is still a developing story, let’s focus on Davutoğlu’s meeting with Syrian opposition, which is a concrete message to the disobedient Damascus administration.

First and foremost, the meeting on Oct. 17 is, in fact, a product of a months-long opposition-building process that began in Antalya during the summer. It at least marks the formation of an umbrella group under which the Syrian opposition could unite and launch a more effective campaign against the al-Assad regime.

Equally important, Turkey’s acknowledgement of the SNC is a shortcut way of saying “al-Assad must go,” echoing similar calls from the United States and European Union. In addition, this leaves no room for Turkey to maneuver in its engagement of efforts to change the leadership in Syria, which, of course, will make it open to counteractions from Syria and its closest ally, Iran.

Turkey’s pressure on Syria will likely be increased in the coming months with consecutive visits to Turkey from two top American officials, namely Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden in November and December. Clinton and Biden’s meetings will also focus on Iran, whose ties with Turkey severely and publicly deteriorated following Ankara’s decision to deploy early warning radar system on its territory.

Iran, which cannot risk the defeat of its closest regional ally, will surely fight for it, perhaps at the expense of challenging Turkey in an open and hard way.

Traditional rivals in the region, Turkey and Iran currently have three major diplomatic problems: disagreement over Syria turmoil; Turkey’s agreement to host NATO’s radar system and the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and its Iranian-based affiliate, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). No doubt, it’s also part of Washington’s plans to further freeze ties between Turkey and Iran via the Syrian mayhem. In this equation, steps to be taken should be carefully calculated in a fashion not to pave the way for those who would like to see a less stable Middle East. To be more precise, Turkey should not allow those who would like to see Syria descend into a civil war succeed unless it wants to be held responsible for such an unwanted development in its southern neighbor.