Turkey joins Russia and Iran in supporting Syria

Members of the delegations take part in the peace talks on Syria in Astana, Kazakhstan, in this December 22, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 December 2017
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Turkey joins Russia and Iran in supporting Syria

ISTANBUL: Russia, Turkey and Iran have reaffirmed their “strong and continued commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”.

The three nations issued the statement giving their support after the Astana summit on Dec. 21-23.

As the Russian Foreign Ministry is currently preparing a list of participants to attend a peace congress in Sochi on Jan. 29-30, it also stated that the congress would not be a platform for those wanting the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The list is reportedly being prepared by taking into account the positions of the guarantor countries of the Astana peace process, i.e. Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, said that if the opposition intends to attend the Sochi Congress to prioritise its insistence on Assad leaving power, then there is no place for it there.

For experts, the removal of the Assad regime is no longer a priority for Turkey considering the latest developments on the ground, but Ankara is trying to handle this delicate process through the transition process.

Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, said that for a while now Turkey has not been insistent on Assad removal's from power.

“At the rhetorical level, Ankara didn’t give up from its objective of leadership change. But, considering the actions in Syria, Assad might act as a counterweight to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) considered by Turkey as a terrorist group,” Erkmen told Arab News.

Assad recently showed a harsh reaction against the YPG and considered them “traitors”.

“But currently Ankara negotiates indirectly with the representatives of the Assad regime during Astana meetings,” Erkmen said.

Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, thinks that Turkey is no longer insisting on the Assad’s removal from power.

“Ankara is planning to remove Assad in an official manner through ballot boxes in and out of Syria, which will be monitored by the United Nations,” he told Arab News.

However, Bora Bayraktar, a Middle East expert from Istanbul Kultur University, said: “Turkey actually did not soften its stance or step back in its rhetoric regarding Assad regime.

“Ankara understood the reality in Syria and changed its priorities,” Bayraktar told Arab News.

“Turkey is trying to solve the regime problem in Syria through the transition process. It doesn’t have a policy of actively pursuing Assad’s removal from power. It supports the opposition and the drafting of the new constitution,” he added.

For Ankara, Bayraktar said, the priority now is its border security and resolving the issue of YPG and its political wing PYD which is seen as a direct threat to territorial integrity due to their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

As a concession to Ankara, the PYD will reportedly not be invited to the Sochi Congress, but to ensure a broader representation ahead of the political settlement in Syria, other Kurdish representatives will be present.


Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

Destroyed buildings following an explosion on Aug. 12 at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria’s Idlib province city of Sarmada. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

  • Russia has offered to repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 but Jordan does not want to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland
  • Jordan would benefit from reopening its border with Syria, but also carried risks of terrorists enter the country with fake IDs

AMMAN: Russia will help Jordan repatriate more than 150,000 Syrian refugees who fled fighting with the Assad regime in the country’s south, a Jordanian official said.

The official said Russia will repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 following the establishment of a center near the border with Syria to process their paperwork.

Jordan’s Minister for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat said the Russian proposal has been under discussion.

The Jordanian government refused to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland, she said.

“It is up to the refugee to decide whether he wants to return, although the presence of large numbers of Syrians has become a burden for Jordan.”

The refugees are mainly from the war-ravaged provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, the scene of fierce clashes between rebels and Assad government forces. 

Ghneimat said the establishment of a processing center nine kilometers from the border with Syria was part of Russia’s larger proposal for the return of the refugees.

Asked about the reopening of the Nassib border crossing, the minister said it was up to Syria to decide if the crossing would be operational.

The Assad regime had not asked Jordan to reopen the border, she said.

The Jordanian border crossing of Jaber is ready to operate and roads leading to the site are secure, Ghneimat said.

A technical team, including several ministry representatives, visited the crossing last week on a tour of inspection.

Jordan would benefit from reopening the border, which is an important avenue for trade with Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and several European countries, a transport ministry official said.

But reopening the border carried risks, including a fear that terrorists would enter the country with fake IDs, the official said.

The closure of the Jordan-Syrian border had severely affected Jordan’s transport sector, the head of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners said.

But he said that Jordanian trucks are ready to carry goods to Syria as soon as the border crossing is reopened. Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, about 7,000 trucks drove through the crossing each day.