Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Syria President Bashar Assad and Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Photo by AP
Text size

Fifteen months after the last time the world powers sat down with Iranian representatives and spoke nuclear, it is finally official and the new round of talks are set to take place in Istanbul this Saturday. But will they?

Despite the gulf between the American (Israeli) position and the Iranian no-concession stand, eternal diplomacy-believers are still trying to convince us that there is a chance for agreement. The New York Times for example has taken heart from the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization "hinting at what seemed to be a modest compromise to partially meet some Western concerns." Faint hope indeed. I still think that there is a good chance that outside events will intervene and won't even allow the sides to get a go at each other across the negotiating table.

Until today I thought that the most likely intruder on the talks would be North Korea's Unha-3 space rocket launch, perhaps even a simultaneous nuclear test. Pyongyang is doing everything to catch the world's attention; new president Kim Jong-un is exhibiting a certain open style by inviting the international media on Sunday to view the three-stage missile already on the launching pad. Not exactly the kind of openness American diplomats were hoping for when they inked the agreement on food aid and a cessation of nuclear activity in February. If anything is guaranteed to toughen up either side, it is North Korea brandishing a gigantic middle finger in Barack Obama's general direction. They may as well stay home
Today it seems though that there is an even more likely obstruction. The news that Syrian forces fired Monday morning in to Turkish territory, reportedly killing two people in a refugee camp near the border has stoked reports in the Turkish media that Erdogan's government is closer than ever in actively intervening on the side of the anti-Assad opposition by creating a "buffer-zone" or "humanitarian corridor" across the border on Syrian soil. If Damascus doesn't apologize quickly and abjectly and at last make a pretense of adhering to Kofi Annan's peace plan, Turkey will have to show its displeasure somehow.

But if Turkey does move into northern Syria, there is absolutely no way that Iran can ignore this challenge to its crucial ally, and arrive in Istanbul as if nothing happened. They will almost certainly demand a delay and a different venue. Maybe those hotel reservations are refundable.