It could be said that in US Vice President Joseph Biden's five-hour meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, during which both conventional and strategic results were settled, the showcase was left blurry.
Meanwhile, we can say that talks by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Saudi Arabia on the same day with the same agenda, were a little clearer. Its significance is the likelihood of enlightening the blurry sections of the Istanbul talks.
Kerry is more “successful” compared to Biden, in relation to the result of the Syria peace talks. Kerry said the talks would continue in Geneva on the 23rd of the month. This way, the “hitch” in the Istanbul leg of the Geneva process was on the ground in Riyadh.
Of course the question, is what was discussed between Riyadh and Ankara during these developments? Because they spoke with Biden and Kerry.
It was observed that the US reached an agreement with the Saudi government on the structure of Syrian opposition groups to join the Geneva talks – amid claims of some opposition groups that “if we do not participate, the US said it would withdraw political and military support.”
KERRY CALLED MOSCOW FROM RIYADH…
Was Ankara at least notified of these developments through Saudi Arabia? Was it consulted? We can respond “yes” to both questions – in fact the US side gave some footnotes to Ankara.
It is too early to state whether the developments are good, but we know that Moscow is pleased with the result achieved by Kerry.
US Secretary of State Kerry called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov from Riyadh on January 23. The Russian Foreign Ministry then made a statement. Both the statement and the message between the lines show that the Kremlin is not disturbed by the developments in Riyadh. On the contrary, it might be thinking Kerry “did a good job.” (“Lavrov, Kerry are for involvement in Syrian political process,” 23/01, TASS.)
IF SAUDI ARABIA OPENS A TEHRAN EMBASSY?
Riyadh's national security and domestic stability concerns eventually lean on the strengthening ties between the US and Iran and their potential metastasis. The crux is how Washington overcame this obstacle. Nobody would believe that the White House is going to follow a policy that would trip its ties with Iran. They would not believe it, but they should not believe that the US would be stuck between Riyadh and Tehran either. (The situation might not change even when you take the US out of this statement and replace it with “Ankara.”)
US Secretary of State ignored all the sarcastic remarks made about Iran throughout his Saudi Arabia visit. This once again proves Washington's sensitivity toward Tehran, but it also indicates that it will not overlook its ties with Riyadh, too.
Yet what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears may all be an illusion. There was a piece of news published on January 22 before Biden and Kerry's Istanbul-Riyadh line was established – so just as Kerry's plane was taking off for the Middle East. “[The US official said] 'Hopefully, maybe that will open up the possibility that the situation will resolve and that the Saudis will find their way forward in reopening their embassy in Tehran' ... He added that Kerry had emphasized to the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers the importance of reconciliation...” (“US 'hopes' Saudi Arabia may reopen Tehran embassy,” 22/01, Reuters.)
Should it not be understood what such a message would mean, what this “message” that passed the plane in the air and reached Riyadh and Tehran is trying to tell both countries – whether true or not?
THROUGH WHOM ARE IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA TALKING?
Then allow me to add Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's statement and its date on top of it all: "Attacking the Saudi embassy (in Tehran) was really bad and harmed Iran and Islam." (“Khamenei condemns attack on Saudi embassy in Tehran,” 20/01, The Lebanon Daily Star.)
You must have sensed something. These reciprocal gestures continued throughout the “dual visit” and as Turkey opened the maps to Biden saying, “you might not be able to see well from a distance, here, take a look at it from here,” it also followed the “Riyadh-Tehran-Istanbul” line the US is trying to establish. Obviously Iran's religious leader's salutation to Riyadh cannot be made without any thought and without Moscow's knowledge.
Let us take the “newly decorated global stage” with a quote from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's most recent interview with an international media outlet:
“We have no accounts to settle with Saudi Arabia. The fact is that the thing which has led to instability in our region is the panic in Saudi Arabia, which panicked after the Arab Spring. We believe Iran and Saudi Arabia can be two major players that are able to help each other and complement one another in the region. We are not interested in pushing Saudi Arabia out of the region. Saudi Arabia is an important player in this region.”
Do these “direct messages” show that the worst stage between these two countries has been overcome?
Let us say, as a result, the Saudis kept on track – not “accepted” – the Syria peace talks – in other words the US-Russia project – to take place next week.
Before this column went to print, “how” the PYD would participate in the talks, Russia's reaction and the position that would be taken by the opposition groups in Riyadh were uncertain. It is obvious that interesting developments are in store.