On Syria, there are some points to be made. The first one is about the “loudness” of Turkey, or, rather, of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It comes perhaps as no surprise that because he is employing threatening, blunt rhetoric, Erdoğan is perceived by a large Western audience to be preparing the groundwork for a unilateral military action. I had to spend a lot of effort to explain to my colleagues in the West that there is no way Turkey will do that -- unless, of course, there is massive, systematic military aggression from Syria into Turkey’s own territory. (So there is no reason for outside actors and observers to either hope or fear an intervention. Such emotions are based on the Orientalist view that the government in Ankara is irrational, which is the opposite.)
But even then, such aggression would, despite some skeptics arguing otherwise, give legitimacy for Ankara to invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter (which calls on members to respond militarily if one is attacked). Whether NATO would in such a case intervene or not is a different matter, but certainly reminding Syria of its presence would help to prevent a bigger crisis. That is why it seems timely that Erdoğan mentions Article 5; given the character of the regime in Damascus, anything might be possible. Also, NATO might need a test like that in terms of solidarity with its allies in dire times – to prove whether it is toothless or not.
Otherwise, the loud voices that defined Ankara’s approach simply helped to excite international attention and led key powers such as China to reconsider their positions. Erdoğan’s visit to China played a part in changing its stand.
The weekend’s new UN Security Council resolution therefore marked an important turning point. The vote was unanimously in favor of sending some UN observers into Syrian territory, and certainly it has broken the “reluctance” of Russia and China. Their conversion means that the Annan plan has won some credibility and regained momentum, and the screws are now tighter on Bashar al-Assad. Consequently, if Assad’s forces continue with military action, Russia in particular will have to harden its attitude against the regime.
Russia also signaled an important “solution-oriented” positioning vis-à-vis Iran at the İstanbul conference. Russia was appropriately given prominence in the talks, and according to The New York Times, its representatives were rather cold to Teheran, demanding that Iran “needs to do what it needs to do.”
The İstanbul meeting seems to have achieved what it was set up to do: to bring the parties together around the table and keep them there for as long as it takes. The meeting itself was the message, and what was agreed came as the icing on the cake. According to Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, the new negotiating process will be guided by the “principle of a step-by-step approach and reciprocity,” implying that Iran could be rewarded for accepting limits on its enrichment of uranium with a relaxation or postponement of sanctions. It is also what Moscow had asked for during the meeting. The Iranian side was cordial and not at all confrontational. If Iran agrees to limitations (not bans) on its nuclear enrichment program, the EU might respond with concessions, such as delaying its oil embargo, due to begin July 1.
All this is good news. Given the fact that Iran, Syria and Iraq are now more interconnected as focal points of crisis, the Obama administration -- by having Russia come closer for negotiations with Iran and heavier pressure on Syria -- can now relax regarding the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran. It remains to be seen how Israel will react to the message of the İstanbul meeting, but it can be said that Netanyahu and his hawks have been delivered a serious blow.