The second “Friends of Syria” meeting was held in Istanbul, while the UN Security Council has reached a dead-end regarding Syria. Before this meeting, Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited Tehran on a rainy day and met and spoke with Iranian officials about Syria and also Iran's nuclear negotiations with the 5+1 group. Some analysts believe that the reason Iran doesn't want nuclear negotiations to take place in Turkey is the difference of opinion between Iran and Turkey over the Syrian crisis. This issue was discussed recently in an interview with Dr. Bahram Amir-Ahmadian, a university professor and international affairs analyst.
IRD: The Friends of Syria meeting was held in Istanbul this time. How do you assess Turkey's role in the Syrian crisis under the new circumstances, and what does holding of this meeting in Turkey mean, in your opinion?
BAA: It seems that we are seeing new developments take place in the international scene and this shows that some actions can be taken outside the framework of the United Nations. The UN Security Council as well as the General Assembly have shown that they do not have the same utility as they did during the Cold War. Maybe this is because the Soviet Union no longer exists and the US is acting unilaterally. UN resolutions such as those on Palestine or Nagorno-Karabakh or ..... have been neglected by many countries. It might be said that what is happening in Turkey is an effort to try to make a decision on the international level like what happened in Yugoslavia or Afghanistan, or even Iraq. It seems that the goal is to make a type of decision about Syria without the UN. More than 80 countries have gathered in Turkey and they are openly saying that they will help the Syrian opposition and officially recognize the transitional council.
These developments are taking place in a Turkey that has seen its role as a moderator weakened in the international scene in the past few months. Some believe this is due to the fact that Turkey does not have the capacity to be present in all scenes. But we see again that Turkey has been considered to host the Friends of Syria meeting, and the new series of negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 group will also be held in this country.
IRD: In your opinion, what influence has Turkey's policy toward Syria had in relations between Iran and Turkey? Was Mr. Erdogan's recent trip to Iran somehow related to this and how much success has it had?
BAA: It is natural that Turkey's views on Syria differ from those of Iran, and it can even be said that these views are in contrast with each other. Turkey supports the opposition to Bashar Assad's government while Iran supports Bashar Assad. There is a contradiction here between the viewpoints of Iran and Turkey. On the other hand, we should pay attention to the fact that, even though it is said that Syria is Iran's strategic ally in the Middle East, Iran has no common border with Syria. In a strategic union, geographic continuity is of the utmost importance. But the dangerous consequences of the Syrian crisis can be observed in Turkey. Therefore, it seems Turkey feels it has the right to interfere in Syrian issues, but Iran has also announced that it will support Bashar Assad and has declared its hope that Bashar Assad's reforms will have good results.
The question now is why has Turkey adopted such a policy? It is obvious that Turkey does not agree with Syria's Alawiyyin, and especially Bashar Assad himself. Public opinion in Turkey also puts pressure on the government. This is because the majority of Turkey's population is made up of Sunnis who are against the Alawi Shiite government of Syria. They know that if the Alawis have power, Alawis inside Turkey might also take action. Another issue that motivates Turkey to be more active in the Syrian crisis is the issue of the Kurds. If Syria is not able to peacefully resolve the crisis, Syrian Kurds might gain power and give help to the Kurds in Turkey. Abdullah Ocalan resided in the Kurdish region of Syria for years.
Therefore, Turkey has shown interest for a more democratic movement, like that of Burhan Ghalioun who is incidentally a Sunni, to take power and have closer ties with Turkey. The reason is that Turkey has shown that it can be model in regard to developments in the Middle East, and a few Northern African countries such as Tunisia and Egypt have been influenced by Turkey. Hence, it seems that Turkey has once again become more active so that it can control and manage the situation. Giving the opportunity to the Syrian opposition to settle on Turkish soil is a model that had been used in some revolutions and opposition movements have been able to gain some success after establishing governments in exile.
After some months of inactivity, it seems that Turkey has entered the ring with new energy and has even convinced the US to increase Turkey's geopolitical weight by holding the 5+1 meeting in that country. Probably no other Muslim country could have gotten America's accord and support. On the other hand, Iran is also happy that this matter could progress in Turkey.
IRD: Turkey has shown great interest in hosting negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 group, but this was not met with Iran's accord. It has also been said that Iran has suggested that Baghdad host the negotiations. To what extent do you think this matter is a result of the difference of opinion between the two countries regarding Syria?
BAA: From what has been said until now, it can be concluded that Iran has explicitly accepted holding negotiations in Istanbul. It seems that both Turkey and Iran have reached an agreement concerning negotiations taking place in Turkey, especially following Mr. Erdogan's trip to Tehran and his talks with Iranian officials. The issue of holding negotiations in Baghdad is an issue that was not accepted by any of the members of the 5+1 group. Iran might be interested in this, but due to Iraq's situation and the country's special issues, it is not a good environment for international negotiations. There are other countries that are much safer and at the same time have a greater role in the international scene. The site of these negotiations will probably become clear as soon as the date is announced. Not accepting the site would not be very positive, especially in the current mood of understanding where the chance of agreement is rather high.
IRD: To sum up, would you like to add anything on this issue?
BAA: It seems that in the current situation there is a need for a strong negotiating team that can evaluate the different aspects of the issue. If this happens, we might be able to achieve some points. Hopefully, positive steps will be taken in this round of negotiations and both sides will reach some agreements that will calm this tumultuous atmosphere to a certain extent.