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
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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.


Iraqi forces clear farmland near Baghdad of Daesh militants

Updated 18 min 49 sec ago
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Iraqi forces clear farmland near Baghdad of Daesh militants

  • A military helicopter flew over army units in the area as troops on the ground searched for weapon caches and bombs

TARAMIYAH: Iraqi security forces are sweeping villages and farmland north of Baghdad as part of an operation aimed at clearing remaining militants belonging to the Daesh group from around the country’s capital.
A military helicopter flew over army units in the area as troops on the ground searched for weapon caches and bombs in farmland in Taramiyah on Tuesday. The area is about 50 kilometers, or 31 miles, north of Baghdad.
The dragnet is part of the operation dubbed “Will to Victory,” which started two weeks ago along the border with Syria and was extended last week to areas north of Baghdad and in the Diyala, Salahuddin and Anbar provinces.
Although Iraq declared victory against IS in July 2017, the extremists continue to carry out attacks around the country.