Stiff resistance to include Iran in crisis diplomacy
The shooting of a Turkish warplane threatened, on Saturday, to escalate the Syrian conflict at a time when a proposal to include Iran in a fresh round of diplomacy was encountering stiff resistance among regional countries who seemed more inclined to pursue a military option to resolve the crisis.
On Saturday, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul acknowledged that a two-seater F-4 Phantom jet might have strayed into Syrian air space and was subsequently shot down. But he stressed that the fighter-jet was not on a mission to breach Syrian airspace — a comment that steered clear of jingoism and seemed to signal that Ankara wished to avoid a flare-up over the incident.
“It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over [national] borders... when you consider their speed over the sea,” Mr. Gul observed. “These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets’ speed.” A statement on Friday from the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Turkey, after the incident, is fully enlightened, will lay forward its attitude and take necessary steps.”
The measured response could be attributed to the likelihood of a full-scale conflict involving regional and extra-regional players. Analysts pointed out that Turkey is a NATO member and its engagement in war with Syria could drag the entire western military alliance into an armed conflict.
Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, Turkey’s neighbour, sounded the alarm when he said on Saturday that downing of the Turkish plane marked “ a serious escalation and [is an] indication that the conflict would have [a] far bigger impact than [on] Syria itself.”. Unsurprisingly, U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon counselled both sides to exercise restraint.
The timing of the shooting seemed particularly inopportune as diplomacy over Syria appeared to be floundering. The U.N. and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan’s recent move to involve Iran for defusing the crisis is encountering a stiff resistance from the West and its Gulf allies.
In Geneva, Mr. Annan said, during a press conference with Robert Mood (head of the U.N.’s monitoring mission in Syria) Iran’s inclusion in talks would be necessary if a peaceful solution was to be found. Mr. Annan said he wished to convene a meeting of the Syria “contact group” in Geneva on June 30.
“I have made it quite clear that I believe Iran should be part of the solution,” he said. He warned, “If we continue the way we are going and competing with each other, it could lead to destructive competition and everyone will pay the price.”
Mr. Annan said it was “time for countries of influence to raise the level of pressure on the parties on the ground.”
Syria is Iran’s key regional ally and a “regime change” will greatly undermine Tehran’s influence in the Levant.
Despite Mr. Annan’s advocacy for a diplomatic offensive, some Arab Gulf countries, backed by the West, seemed more inclined to focus on the military track. The Guardian reported that Saudi Arabia had agreed to pay salaries to members of the opposition Free Syria Army, to encourage defections and increase pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The daily added that senior officials from the U.S. and Arab world have discussed this move with Riyadh.