Tuesday was marked by a flurry of Iranian diplomatic activity over Syria. The Secretary of the National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, moved from Monday discussions in Lebanon to a meeting yesterday with President Assad in Damascus. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi went to Ankara to see his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu.
While Saturday's abduction by the Free Syrian Army of 48 Iranians was one of the topics, the talks undoubtedly went far wider. Jalili's talks to Lebanon were an attempt to settle Iran's position with local political forces, from the President Michel Suleiman to Hezbollah, while Salehi's visit off-set a wave of Iranian threats --- from the head of armed forces Hassan Firouzabadi to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani --- promising action against Turkey as well as Qatar and Saudi Arabia if the seized Iranians were harmed.
Almost nothing of specific value came out of the meetings. Jalili's encounter with Assad produced nothing more than the scripted declaration that the Islamic Republic was part of the "axis of resistance" with Syria, while Salehi's line was that he had asked Ankara to help over the 48 Iranians and both sides had upheld the value of close relations.
Instead, what should be taken away is the evidence that Iran, unsettled by the increasing difficulties for the Syrian regime, is trying to buttress its position in a post-Assad future. If there is to be a "transitional government" in Damascus, or even prolonged uncertainty and conflict, then Iran cannot afford an erosion of its position in neighbouring countries. So ties with Lebanon will be reinforced, if possible, and relations with Turkey will not be allowed to collapse into a real fight beyond the rhetorical bluster.
In that context, one other news item comes into play. The Saudi invitation to President Ahmadinejad to an extraordinary session of the Organization of Islamic Countries next week, and the Islamic Republic's acceptance indicates a desire on both sides for lines of communication, if not necessarily agreement on the way forward over Syria.