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PV Vivekanand: Syria factored into Iran crisis
April 07, 2012
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Tehran appears to be pushing for a postponement of resumed negotiations with world powers on its controversial nuclear programme scheduled to take place in mid-April in Istanbul by suggesting alternative venues. If the venue is shifted, then it could gain time for Iran and will be a blow to Turkey’s diplomatic credentials in Iranian retaliation for Ankara’s support for the anti-regime rebellion in Syria.

Shifting of the venue from Istanbul could delay the meeting between Iran and the so-called 5+1 group – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and German – by several weeks (unless of course the big powers call the Iranian bluff by rearranging schedules to suit the venue while keeping the timeline).

Iranian spokesmen have suggested Geneva, Moscow and Vienna as options, but the US and allies are unlikely to accept any postponement of the meeting as a result of a shift of the venue. The conference is seen as the last chance for diplomacy to prevail in the effort to have Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment programme that the West says is weapon-oriented. Tehran denies the charge.

Strange as it may sound, Iraq has also butted in by “disclosing” that Iran wants Baghdad to host the nuclear talks. It is a ridiculous proposition since the big powers will never attend talks with Iran on pro-Iranian soil.

What is Iran’s cited reason for seeking to shift the venue? The Iranians have said Turkish “violations” of “bilateral agreements” as the reason without giving details. But the serious political fallout between Tehran and Ankara as a result of the conflicting positions the two have taken over the crisis in Syria could be one of the reasons.

Turkey has emerged as the most serious foreign player in the ongoing rebellion in Syria by throwing its weight behind the opposition seeking to topple the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, Iran’s staunchest Arab ally. 

Iran has pledged to protect the Syrian regime, a collapse of which would be a major blow to Tehran’s regional ambitions. Turkish Prime Minister Reccip Erdogan is believed to have taken a message from US President Barack Obama to the Iranian leadership last month after the two met in Seoul for the nuclear summit.

Presumably, the message was to the effect that “co-operate” with the West in the nuclear dispute or lose Syria and also suffer from Israel/US miltiary action. During a meeting with the Turkish premier in Masshad, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged that “the Islamic Republic of Iran will defend Syria due to its (Syria’s) support for the line of resistance against the Zionist regime and is strongly opposed to any intervention by foreign forces in Syria’s internal affairs.”

It is not known how Erdogan responded, but he said in an interview with Iranian state television that all parties “should respect the will of the Syrian nation.” Obviously, that was the last thing Iran wanted to hear.

However, Erdogan backed Iran’s nuclear rights in a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The government and nation of Turkey has always clearly supported the nuclear positions of the Islamic republic of Iran, and will continue to firmly follow the same policy in the future,” Erdogan was quoted as saying in the statement issued by Ahmadinejad’s office.

Despite the behind-the-scene tension, Erdogan signed agreements with Iran for a massive expansion of bilareral trade and economic relations at a time when the West is rapidly stepping up pressure on Tehran through sweeping sanctions.

Despite the niceties, there is no doubt that Turkey and Iran are on a collision course in Syria. It is nightmarish for Tehran to envisage the loss of the Syrian regime as an ally, and Ankara is already deeply involved in the conflict with its support for the opposition. Turkey is even providing a base for Syrian rebel fighters.

Turkey has already withdrawn its ambassador and closed its embassy in Damascus.

Turkish military is planning to set up “safe zones” in Syria near the border for Syrians fleeing the regime’s crackdown. This could possibly lead to direct clashes between Syrian and Turkish military forces and probably involving Iranian military commanders who are said to be directing the state’s strategy.

However, direct Iranian military support for Syria by sea or by land through Iraq will be intercepted. Lebanon’s Hizbollah will be discouraged from fighting alongside the Syrians.

Undoubtedly, the outcome of the conflict will be in favour of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) member Turkey, whose military is several times more powerful than that of Syria. But the conflict could get protracted.

(To be continued)

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