The Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria is fuming because the U.S. amabassador to Syria, Robert Ford, visited the city of Hama on Friday, and was joined by France’s ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, according to Reuters. The two of them showed solidarity with the protesters, and probably contributed to an even larger turnout.
Robert Ford presents his credentials to Bashar al-Assad in January (SANA)
U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said that the purpose of the visit was “to make absolutely clear with his physical presence that we stand with those Syrians who are expressing their right to speak for change. We are greatly concerned about the situation in Hama.”
Syria’s state-run Syria Arab News Agency (SANA) said that the provocative act “reminds of the colonialism methods,” and that “This behavior is an interference in Syria’s internal affairs, instigates riots and violence and contradicts all claims of the United States on supporting the world security and stability, the political solutions, dialogue and reform.”
The visits by Ford and Chevallier to Hama were more than just provocative gestures of solidarity with the protesters. They are part of a joint effort underway Barack Obama, France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy and Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resolve the Syrian conflict as peacefully as possible, by pressuring Assad to negotiate with the opposition, according to Debka.
The pressure is with more than just words, according to the article. Turkey’s army is on the border, ready to march into Syria at any time. If Assad’s regime initiates a massacre in Hama, then Turkish troops would enter Syria and carve out an 800-square kilometer buffer zone between the Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish borders and the Mediterranean. This enclave would provide a sanctuary for Syrian refugees and opposition leaders.
Iran versus Turkey in Syria’s crisis
Prior to the Arab uprising, Syria was playing an important role in Mideast policies of both Turkey and Iran.
Turkey’s strategy has been to maintain cordial “no problem” relationships with all the Arab states, in order to regain some of the hegemony of the Ottoman Empire. The uprising has jeopardized Turkey’s relationship with the entire Arab world. Most of the people expect Erdogan to stand up to Assad and bring down his regime if he continues to massacre his own people, but Erdogan isn’t really ready to do anything like that.
Iran’s strategy has been to use Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon to fight the west, especially Israel. Without Assad, Iran would find it much more difficult to provide arms to either Hizbollah or Hamas.
Thus, Iran and Turkey have basically conflicting objectives for Syria, according to Middle East Online. If Assad’s regime survives, then Turkey will have immense problems with Arabs. If Assad’s regime falls, then Iran will become isolated.