Yesterday’s speeches by Putin and Obama at the UN General Assembly, along with statements by representatives of other nations, showed that, contrary to the impression created by Kremlin propaganda in recent weeks, Russia has failed to coordinate a plan with “partners for resolving the Syrian problem” that would involve keeping Assad in power.
While Putin reiterated in his speech that Assad is a legitimate president who should be supported in the fight against terrorism, Obama made his position clear: “By that logic, we should support tyrants like Assad who drop barrel bombs on civilians because the alternative is surely worse. While he expressed a willingness for the U.S. to work with Russia and Iran on Syria, he set firm limits on such cooperation: “But there will be no return to the pre-war status quo.”
A similar difference in approach was evident at the level of the two key regional states involved in the conflict: Iran and Turkey. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in an interview before Obama’s speech, “I think everyone understands that President Assad has to stay and that is how we can fight the terrorists.” In New York, however, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared that Turkey would not change its policy toward Assad and would oppose any “transitional” settlement plan for Syria that included keeping him in power, even temporarily.
What influenced Davutoğlu’s tougher stance, especially considering that just on Thursday, after the holiday prayers, Erdogan did not completely rule out the possibility of a “transitional” continuation of Assad’s rule, although he described it as an undesirable option? Perhaps the timing of these statements can shed light on the matter: Erdogan allowed for ambiguity shortly after his meeting with Putin, who probably bluffed about “bending” the U.S. to his position, hence Rouhani’s confidence. On the other hand, Davutoğlu did not allow any ambiguity, probably because he knew that the US did not accept the Russian-Iranian plan to keep Assad in power.
In conclusion, comparing all these statements leads to the conclusion that at this stage the Byzantine-Safavid bloc has failed to achieve its political goals for Syria, despite its propagandistic bluff.