Regional diplomatic efforts on the Syrian issue are regaining momentum. The first leg of these endeavors will be the Arab League’s Baghdad summit. While this takes place, Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan will visit Tehran. Then comes the Friends of Syria conference. All three affairs pose intricate problems for Turkey. Turkey’s bid to attend the Baghdad summit was turned down on the grounds that the conference was for Arabs only. Diplomatic sources say that Turkey’s case is not unique; 29 countries — including Iran — were turned down for the same reason. Foreign Minister Davutoglu must have been vexed given the Turkey that is touted as ‘’the most influential country of the region’’ was not invited to the Arab summit during a critical time for the Syrian issue while an EU representative was welcomed.
Ankara’s worries regarding the Baghdad summit goes beyond not being invited. Statements made by Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari were bound to rattle Ankara. In certain comments he made to The Wall Street Journal, he made allusions to Turkey and Iran when he said, “This summit will display Iraq’s ability to stand on its own feet against regional powers.”
It was impossible for Ankara to be elated by the remarks made by Arab League Secretary General Nabil al Araby to Arab newspapers: “There will be no call from Baghdad for Bashar al-Assad to leave.” It turns out that this is in line with the current UN diplomatic process.
We know from statements made by Prime Minister Erdogan’s that Ankara doesn’t favor this process. Assad’s acceptance of Kofi Annan’s plan yesterday caught Ankara off guard. The fact that all of these developments are taking place on the eve of the Istanbul conference can’t make Ankara too happy.
Erdogan’s meetings in Tehran are sure to be delicate. Tehran has surely taken note of Erdogan’s previous meeting with Obama in Seoul, where the two leaders agreed on almost all points of discussion. Tehran must therefore be waiting for him with its guards up. Moreover, the fact that Erdogan has accused Tehran of supporting Assad will not make his task easier. It is clear that after the friendly discussions that will take place in the presence of the media, there will be a fair share of behind the scenes tough talk.
The fact that Iran wasn’t invited to the Friends of Syria conference [in Istanbul] is a sign that cold winds are blowing between Ankara and Tehran. The non-inclusion of Russia and China in the conference has already raised questions regarding its ability to influence events on the ground.
Questions are being asked on how convincing the Syrian opposition’s claims of unity will be if they are unable to come to conference with a single voice, or if it is seen that those attending the conference are not representative of the gamut of the Syrian opposition. Turkey’s already weak hand in the Syrian game will become even weaker.