The Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan’s visit to Washington on Thursday was expected to put pressure on the Obama administration to take a tougher stance against the Syrian regime. Erdogan was quoted as seeking the imposition of a US-led ‘no-fly-zone’ in Syria and increased arms supplies to the rebel fighters. In the event, however, Obama stood his ground and insisted there is no “magic formula” to resolve the crisis. Of course, he couched the rebuff in extravagant diplomatic niceties during the joint press conference in the White House, but it was a rebuff nonetheless.
Simply put, Obama is unwilling to let the US be drawn into an Iraq-like quagmire. Regime change is the objective alright, but there must be a negotiated transition, as he said, “in which the institutions inside of Syria are still functioning, but we have a representative, multiethnic, multi-religious body that can bring about democracy and peace inside of Syria.”
Elsewhere Obama added, it should be a Syria that is “intact and inclusive of all ethnic and religious groups; and that’s a source of stability, not extremism.”
A good thing to come out of the press conference was that Obama reverted to the idea of a peace conference in Geneva. He said, “I do think that the prospects of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results.”
But, what about the chemical weapons and the “red line”? This is what Obama had to say: “This is an international problem. It is very much my hope to continue to work with all the parties involved, to find a solution that brings peace to Syria, stabilizes the region, stabilizes those chemical weapons. But it’s not going to be something that the United States does by itself.”
The video clipping showed an uncharacteristically subdued Erdogan standing in the rain the Rose Garden, while Obama dictated the terms of peace in Syria. Erdogan politely listened, but then, later on at the Brookings, he was his usual self and took off on a tangent and hit back his own way
where it hurts the US interests — by insisting that Hamas is a legitimate participant in the Middle East peace talks.
He disclosed that he is heading for Russia and the Gulf countries soon for Syria talks “to assess the situation there.” Erdogan has further reiterated his intention to visit Gaza next month.
Erdogan isn’t the only one who feels let down. The Saudis are livid, too. The government-owned Asharq Al-Awsat tore into the US’ policy on Syria in an opinion piece entitled “Obama’s Betrayal” under the byline of the daily’s managing editor Eyad Abu Shakra (here
The daily says: “Obama has given in to the Russian interpretation… Washington has accepted the reality of Bashar Al-Assad remaining at the helm in Syria until the end of his presidential term next year, exactly as Russia and Iran wanted.”
The Saudis apprehend that they are “losing” Syria and in the bargain may also be losing ground to the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Significantly, Saudi foreign minister held a 2-hour meeting
with his Iranian counterpart in Jeddah last week.
According to the israeli media network DEBKAfile, here
, the meeting in Jeddah signified that the Saudis are opening a line to Iran bypassing the Russian-US initiative on Syria.
At any rate, Iran has since announced its intention to hold a conference of foreign ministers and senior officials in Tehran on May 29 to “set out a framework for resolving the Syrian crisis.” Don’t be surprised if Turkey and Egypt attend it. Will Saudis, too?
Meanwhile, the ‘Friends of Syria’ countries propose to meet in Jordan
next week to deliberate on the US-Russia initiative regarding peace talks. The meet, if it takes place, will be one helluva meeting. The FOS were supposed to evict Bashar Al-Assad from power. Now, in effect, Obama says he can contest the election and be part of a ‘democratic Syria.”
Unsurprisingly, Russia is keeping its fingers crossed. As the Moscow-based strategic analyst Fyodor Lukyanov noted in an opinion piece
in the official Novosti news agency, it is indeed a situation where things could go either way — “a critical moment, with advocates and opponents of a negotiated settlement in Syria at each other’s throats.” But Lukyanov knows, the Kremlin knows, Russia holds a winning hand. It has blasted a hole through the doctrine of (humanitarian) interventionism through which an elephant can walk through.
Indeed, what Russia can do for the present is to make sure that any western adventurist enterprise to ratchet up the current level of military intervention in Syria proves costly and unacceptable.” According to the Reuters dispatch, here
, Russia is very much on the ball.
To my mind, Jeffrey Laurenti of the Century Foundation is probably right that Obama may have earned his Nobel on Syria
. I have only this caveat: Obama shouldn’t keep the Nobel to himself, but should share it with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It’s only natural justice.