Turkey and Syria Come to Blows: Is Western Intervention Next?
Continued from previous page
Set up by Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, the Syria Contact Group was to have met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last week. The point of the meeting was to produce a pathway to end the bloodshed in Syria. The Group's members (Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) had pledged to have their foreign ministers meet in Cairo before the UN meet, and then send their heads of government to hash out some kind of document in New York. The Saudi Foreign Minister skipped the Cairo meeting; it was said that he was ill (" The Mystery of the Syria Contact Group," Asia Times Online, September 22). The other foreign ministers continued with the meeting, except that without Saudi Arabia things remained in stasis.
In Cairo, the Egyptians unveiled the four principles for the Contact Group's approach to Syria: 1. Cease Violence. 2. Reject Foreign Intervention. 3. Preserve the Unity of the Syrian People and Land. 4. Maintain Political Unity. The first three points are self-explanatory, and were accepted by the Iranians and the Turks. The fourth point is much more ambiguous - how can political unity be maintained if the country is in a civil war. Turkey was not convinced of the possibility of unity; it has called for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad and his clique, which means that it does not see them as party to a future Syria. Nevertheless, Turkey's Davutoglu did not indicate that his government would leave the Contact Group because of this disagreement.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey has been a willing partner in the Contact Group. Both have missed meetings, and both have been reluctant to adopt the four principles laid out by Morsi. Nonetheless, all four countries have good reasons to be in the Group. Turkey buys a third of its oil from Iran and proposes to double its current $15 billion trade with that country despite the US and European sanctions. The PKK offensive and the tension on the Syrian-Turkey border heighten the fears that Turkey will not be able to insulate its own problems from the vortex of Syria. Saudi Arabia, as I reported earlier, had insinuated a deal with the Iranians for the former to back off from Syria if the latter close down its support for the demonstrations in eastern Saudi Arabia.
This is why it is Qatar once more that has made noises about an Arab intervention in Syria (this is unlikely to materialize since Qatar's military is largely staffed by Pakistanis and it would rely upon a reluctant Egypt to provide the bodies for the actual force). Iran is desperate for a ceasefire in Syria. When the Contact Group seemed on life support in New York, Iran's President Ahmadinejad suggested that he was forming a new Group to deal with the Syrian problem. This is unlikely to materialize. Egypt is still keen on the Group, and it requires Iran in it since Tehran is the only regional capital with credibility with Assad (apart from Baghdad).
Did the Contact Group die at Akcakale? Will NATO emerge from its huddle and provide the "no-fly zone" that al-Najjar asks for, which is tantamount to a NATO intervention into the Syrian conflict?