Syrian President Bashar al-Assad renewed his country’s desire for Turkish mediation in negotiations with Israel, according to Turkish President Abdullah Gul. During a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart in Istanbul, Gul announced that “Syria has said it is ready to resume talks where they were left off.”
It is worth noting here that Damascus immediately – and for the second time – rejected the Palestinian negotiators initiating US-mediated negotiations with Israel under an Arab banner. Damascus previously rejected this in Cairo, and it repeated its rejection just a few days ago from Egypt, however Syria has today reiterated its own willingness to resume negotiations [with Israel] via Turkish mediation. The issue does not stop here for during a press conference with his Turkish counterpart the Syrian President said that “the only solution is to work towards achieving peace in order to prevent war…even if there is one percent risk of a war.” This of course is very different language than the language that we heard during the Iranian First Vice President’s visit to Damascus last week, when he said “to those thinking about attacking Syria or Lebanon…this time we will cut off your legs off to the same extent of your attack.”
The Syrian statements, and the statements made by Turkey, contain a number of important messages, and it is clear that Damascus decided to explain its decision in a direct manner in full view of the Americans, especially after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced two weeks ago that the statements being issued from Syria could either mean war or peace. Like many Arabs, the Syrians do not believe that there is any possibility of achieving peace with Binyamin Netanyahu’s government however they want to demonstrate the appearance of adhering to the peace process but via Turkey, until the US position tempts Damascus whereupon negotiations will take place via Washington rather than Ankara.
The Syrian position which was announced during the joint press conference in Istanbul between the Syrian and Turkish presidents contradicts the previous [Syrian] position that was announced during the First Iranian Vice President’s visit to Damascus. This also contradicts the previous Syrian position that was taken during the meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers in Cairo to give the Palestinians the green light to begin indirect negotiations with Israel. Of course these Syrian positions are nothing more than a message to the US, as explained previously.
Therefore what is clear today is that Damascus is following the opposite of the well-known political principle known as “take and ask” and is instead following the completely Syrian [political] principle of ‘reject and negotiate” in order to buy time and strengthen its negotiating positions.
The danger of this position is that its consequences are similar to the consequences of a period of neither war nor peace, which is what President al-Assad himself warned of in Turkey when he said “we are in a situation of neither war nor peace, and this is a temporary situation which will either end in peace or in war. There is no other choice apart from these two.” The other problem in this situation is that everybody is aware of Syria’s plan, and this is something that has become clear not just to the opposing team coach, but even to the spectators.