Turkey's New Syria Strategy Could Broker Peace

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan might have rescued his country's dwindling role as a regional leader by negotiating with Iran over Syria, writes Semih Idiz. Turkey's plans to negotiate in separate groups with parties unwilling to sit down with each other — like Saudi Arabia and Iran — could allow Ankara to play the lead role in brokering a resolution to the Syrian crisis.

al-monitor Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience after receiving his honorary doctorate degree from Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul October 5, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal.

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russian, recep tayyip erdogan

Oct 22, 2012

Vision is important in foreign policy, but so is imagination.

Vision involves fixed focus on certain objectives. If successful, you can end up with important results. But with the uncertainties of international relations, there is no such guarantee. That's why flexibility based on imagination is important. Many major crises have been solved using diplomatic formulas generated by imagination.

Turkey followed its vision both when it was flirting with Bashar al-Assad and later in its struggle against the Damascus regime. It first said, “Zero problems with neighbors,” and then, “human values.”

In both cases, predictions turned out to be wrong. The realities of the region and unforeseen developments spoiled our plans and brought Turkey face to face with serious impasses. That's when Ankara realized that it had to be flexible and search for new solutions based on imagination.

Although not planned, the meeting of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Baku produced what appeared to be promising results.

There were indications in Erdogan’s remarks after the meeting that Ankara was preparing for serious modifications of its Syria policy.

In short, Moscow’s blocking of United Nations moves and Iran’s attitude that affected Turkey’s expectations in the region pushed Ankara into a corner and forced it to change its inflexible policy on Syria.

The “triple negotiation system” Erdogan spoke of after his meeting with Ahmadinejad is an important signal. The “triple negotiation system” will bring together Turkey, Egypt and Iran; Turkey, Russia and Iran; and Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to work separately toward a solution in Syria.

As one can see from Erdogan’s statement, the initiative aims to overcome the obstacle of Saudi unwillingness to the sit at the same table with Iran. Turkey seems to have cured itself of the allergy of discussing Syria with Russia and Iran.

Responsibility now lies with regional powers instead of the passive international community under the UN banner. The involvement of Russia and Iran also means that, Assad's regime, if not Assad, will have a place at the negotiating table.

Of course we can’t forget that Saudi Arabia, experiencing a cold war with Iran, could be a spoiler. But what is important is the changed policy of Turkey, a major regional player.

Certainly Turkey has taken a step back from the previous position. But if the system Erdogan spoke about works, Turkey may once again become a major player in efforts to find a solution to Syrian crisis.

This is why imagination is necessary in diplomacy.

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