Ankara, Moscow coordinate steps ahead of new round of Astana talks

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he arrives to address the lawmakers of his ruling party in Ankara, Turkey, on Oct. 24, 2017. Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin were said to have discussed the latest developments in Syria by phone on Friday ahead of the seventh round of peace talks in Astana. (Turkish Presidential Press Service, pool photo via AP)
Updated 29 October 2017
0

Ankara, Moscow coordinate steps ahead of new round of Astana talks

ANKARA: Ankara and Moscow continued their coordination on Syria ahead of the seventh round of peace talks in Astana on Monday.
On Oct. 28, according to presidential sources quoted in Turkish media, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the latest developments in Syria by phone.
They reportedly underlined the significance of closely coordinating in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, where the Turkish military recently began building observation posts as part of a “de-escalation” deal brokered by Ankara, Moscow and Tehran last month.
Experts say they expect Idlib to dominate the agenda of the upcoming Astana meeting, which is due to last for two days.
“The Turkish Army is working very closely with Russia to secure and monitor the de-escalation zone in Idlib,” Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, told Arab News.
“Russia expects Turkey to play an influential role there in keeping rebel groups away from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.”
Turkey’s alleged plan to launch an operation against Kurdish forces in the neighboring region of Afrin is also likely to be discussed.
“It’s not clear whether Moscow is ready to give Ankara a free hand over Afrin yet,” said Ersen.
“This is mainly because Russia has remarkably improved its relations with the Syrian Kurds in the last few years, in the belief that they’d play a crucial role in the reconstruction of post-Daesh Syria,” he added.
“Although Moscow perceives the YPG (People’s Protection Units) as under the influence of Washington, it still wants to maintain its leverage over the Syrian Kurds.”
Ersen said the draft constitution prepared by Russia a few months ago, which includes greater autonomy for Syrian Kurds, will continue to be the main point of disagreement between Ankara and Moscow.
The Astana talks have been led by Turkey, Russia and Iran. Representatives of the Assad regime, armed opposition groups, the UN, the US and Jordan are expected to attend the upcoming meeting.
Ersen said Moscow and Tehran know that they need active Turkish cooperation, at least in the short term, in order to keep Syrian rebel groups under control.
“So they might try to appease Ankara with a few minor concessions regarding Afrin,” he added.
“Considering the latest rapprochement between Turkey and Iran over the Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq, they might use this new momentum to reach an understanding about the Syrian Kurds.”
So far, Turkish troops have installed two observation posts in northern Syria, and the number is expected to reach 14.
Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Ankara-based think tank ANKASAM, said Turkish and Russian interests converge on the need to develop an efficient dialogue mechanism regarding current and potential developments in their neighborhood.
“The Astana peace process confirmed that both parties will cooperate to end the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and to preserve their territorial integrity,” Erol told Arab News.
“I don’t think there’s a divergence between Moscow and Ankara over the YPG and its political wing the PYD (Democratic Union Party),” he said.
“They just differ on one thing: Turkey doesn’t consider any terror group a counterpart in the negotiations, while Russia doesn’t want to leave the PYD/YPG to the US.”
But Erol said the Turkish-Russian partnership in Syria will be tested if Ankara launches a military offensive in Afrin and Manbij.
“During this seventh round of Astana talks, I expect the parties to underline that they won’t tolerate any terror corridor along Syria and Iraq, and they’ll call for a joint stance against separatist movements,” he said.
Russia will also give a green light to Turkey’s ongoing security and anti-terror operations in Idlib, Erol added.


Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

Updated 26 min 17 sec ago
0

Iran, US tension is a ‘clash of wills’: Guards commander

  • The commander said they will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for their enemies
  • Tensions between Iran and US escalated after Trump restored sanctions

GENEVA: The standoff between Iran and the United States is a “clash of wills,” a senior commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday, suggesting any enemy “adventurism” would meet a crushing response, Fars news agency reported.
Tensions have spiked between the two countries after Washington sent more military forces to the Middle East in a show of force against what US officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
“The confrontation and face-off of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the malicious government of America is the arena for a clash of wills,” Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said.
He pointed to a battle during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war where Iran was victorious and said the outcome could be a message that Iran will have a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” for any enemy “adventurism.”
On Sunday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!“
Trump restored US sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
Trump wants Iran to come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal with more curbs on its nuclear and missile programs.
Reiterating Iran’s stance, the spokesman for its Supreme National Security Council said on Thursday that “There will not be any negotiations between Iran and America.”
Keyvan Khosravi was also quoted as saying by the state broadcaster that some officials from several countries have visited Iran recently, “mostly representing the United States.”
He did not elaborate, but the foreign minister of Oman, which in the past helped pave the way for negotiations between Iran and the United States, visited Tehran on Monday.
“Without exception, the message of the power and resistance of the Iranian nation was conveyed to them,” he said.
In Berlin, a German diplomatic source told Reuters that Jens Ploetner, a political director in Germany’s Foreign Ministry, was in Tehran on Thursday for meetings with Iranian officials to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and cool tensions in the region.