A momentous trilateral meeting took place in Istanbul on May 9th that brought together Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Syria's detractors in the US were conspicuously silent regarding this trilateral meeting while going to great pains dissecting the significance and implications of the one held several months ago between Presidents Assad and Ahmadinejad, alongside Hezbollah's Secretary General. The reason for this silence is simple. It lies in the fact that although some attempt to naively, or maybe maliciously, simplify Syria's political stances as one dimensional, Syria's regional role is far more nuanced. One cannot fully comprehend Syria's political vision without assessing these two meetings side-by-side. They are a clear indication that while in the absence of peace Syria unequivocally supports resistance, peace remains its strategic choice.
During this meeting in Istanbul, the three sides discussed several important issues. The underlying theme was a vision for peace, stability, and security in the region. Among several topics, they agreed that Iraq's sovereignty must be maintained, and that its future government should espouse a unified Iraq. The three leaders also discussed Gaza and the ongoing, brutal Israeli blockade, as well as the failure of the international community to meet its responsibilities and pledges to the besieged people of Gaza.
However, the most significant outcome of this meeting was Syria reaffirming its commitment to renewing indirect peace talks with Israel, while Turkey reaffirmed its own role as mediator.
Indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel took place under Turkish auspices throughout 2008 and included several rounds. These rounds succeeded in drawing up around 90% of a future peace agreement. However, as the decisive moment approached, instead of returning to Ankara for a historic moment of peace, Israel's then-prime minister launched a vicious offensive on Gaza killing more than 1,400 people. The current Turkish foreign minister, who at the time was lead negotiator between both parties, recently described this incident at a public talk in Washington as a "personal insult" to Turkey.
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