Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How not to solve Syrian crisis

Almost a month ago, Egypt's ambitious president offered a regional meeting among Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia to end the 18-month violence in Syria and reiterated his initiative earlier this week.

Iran welcomed the suggestion while Turkey said works are underway to elaborate Egypt's proposal on holding the regional meeting. If Saudi Arabia nods to such a meeting, it will be the only high-level Syria meeting that includes Iran, which is the staunch supporter of the Syrian regime, whose ruthless crackdown on the armed opposition has caused the death of more than 20,000 since the uprising started in March last year.

Former American diplomat and an academic Vali Nasr said in his recent The New York Times op-ed that Iran's inclusion in Syria talks is important as it has great leverage in Syria. His view was dismissed by many who contended that Iran is the chief architect of violence in the war-torn country and that Tehran is a part of the problem rather than a solution.

While David Kirkpatrick of the NYT has suggested that Morsi's recent initiative shows that Egypt will be picking a new, independent trajectory without the U.S., Today's Zaman's Bülent Keneş likened Morsi's foreign policy steps to Turkey's what he said "adventuresome" foreign policy it pursued earlier in the past decade. Speaking as if unaware of regional realities and of too much antagonism between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Morsi told Reuters in a recent interview that the balance is key in international relations and that he wants to achieve this goal by reaching out to every actor in the region.

It is obvious that the crisis in Syria is now what many call a "regional crisis," becoming the battleground of influence between Turkey/Saudi Arabia/Qatar and Iran/Russia. If a regional solution to the crisis is possible, it will only be achieved if all actors involved in the peace talks have a genuine desire to end the bloodshed as a first goal rather than advancing their influence inside Syria.

One would expect that a realist would favor fighting to oust the Syrian regime that would deal a huge blow to Iran. But a realist does not only do everything that is in the interest of a state but also calculates all costs and benefits. Getting Syria out of Iran's orbit isn't worth to a bloody and very costly war. In addition, there are better ways of doing it.

Ending the bloodshed in Syria, it seems, is not what Iran wants and hence it will be a likely outcome that the quartet talks will collapse. Both Turkey and Iran, fierce rivals in Syria, claimed that a side they back is closer to "victory." This thinking will also make it almost impossible for actors to make compelling compromises.

With these realities on the ground, Morsi's initiative for the regional meeting on Syria is naive at best. In stable Syria, Turkey would be the winner as it was very successful in getting Damascus out of Iran's orbit before the uprising started last year. Wary of this situation, Iran could hardly consent to a scenario of stability in Syria at the expense of the Syrian regime.

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