'Substantive' fourth round of Israel-Syria talks ends in Istanbul

Erdogan gets positive domestic "bounce" from mediating negotiations; sides to meet again.

olmert assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Even before Turkey's Constitutional Court handed down a decision against banning the ruling Justice and Development party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish mediation of Israel-Syria negotiations was giving Erdogan an important domestic boost, Turkish sources said Wednesday. "People in Turkey see the Turkish role, and while not knowing all the details, say, 'Look, Turkey is a strong country. Israel and Syria are using us to bring them together,'" the sources said. The Turkish government, the sources said, was getting good domestic PR for the mediation efforts, using it to show that Erdogan has "shaken up Turkish foreign policy," and made Ankara a key player in the region. The good domestic bounce has been important for Erdogan at a time when the 11-member constitution court was debating whether the Islamic-rooted AKP should be banned for becoming a focus of anti-secular activity. Israel and Syria wrapped up a fourth round of indirect talks in Istanbul on Wednesday, with a Turkish official being quoted in AP as saying that the two sides have decided to hold more indirect talks there in the coming months. There has been no decision yet on when direct talks will begin. Turkish involvement in the talks - Turkish mediators shuttle back and forth between the Israeli and Syrian teams who are in different hotels - has also helped Erdogan's image, enabling him to be seen domestically not only as the former mayor of Istanbul, but also now as a world statesman. The sources said there was not undue concern in Ankara that failure in the talks would be placed at Turkey's doorstep, since Turkey could always say that while they tried, the two sides were unable to bridge the gaps. The sources said that in addition to serving Erdogan's domestic interest, the talks also help Turkey's internationally standing, showing that Turkey uniquely holds the trust of both Israel and the Arab world. Turkey's role in the negotiations was not merely as a messenger, passing notes back and forth, but also to a certain extent sounding the sides out about various issues, the sources said. While neither Israel, Syria nor Turkey has divulged the content of the indirect negotiations, it is widely believed that the sides are talking about security, border and water issues. The Turkish source said that after four rounds of talks, it seemed clear that the sides were addressing substantive, and not only procedural, issues.