Turkey, Russia and Iran meet to tackle Syria issues

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in this file photo. (AFP)
Updated 08 February 2018
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Turkey, Russia and Iran meet to tackle Syria issues

ANKARA: It did not take long for the three guarantor countries of the Astana de-escalation deal to decide on discussing their disagreements over peace efforts in Syria.
Turkish presidential sources announced on Thursday that Ankara, Moscow and Tehran will meet in Istanbul. Although the meeting date is not fixed yet, it is expected to be held soon this month.
Last time the three leaders met was in November at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
On a parallel track, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu conducted high-level meetings on Wednesday in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Russia, Iran and Turkey differ on their perspectives on the Syrian conflict. Turkey has backed the rebels seeking Assad’s removal while the Assad regime, which Turkey has always opposed, has been Iran’s chief ally since the start of the Syrian civil war.
Iran is also outraged at the increasing presence of Turkey in Syria and is concerned that Turkish forces intend to stay for a long term, especially following Turkey’s cross-border offensive into the northwestern enclave of Afrin against Syrian Kurdish militia (YPG).
“We wish for Turkey’s operation in Syria to end at the earliest time,” Rouhani told reporters Tuesday.
A Turkish soldier was killed on Monday in a mortar-and-rocket attack by Iran-backed militias in the opposition-held Idlib, where Turkey was establishing an observation post.
This critical get-together in Istanbul will focus on Syria, but its real aim will be a broader effort by the three countries to underline their red lines in the region while keeping alive their fragile cooperation in what has been dubbed the “Astana process.”
A central question now is how the countries will be able to resolve their seemingly irreconcilable differences over policies in Syria.
The answer, say analysts, may lie in their ability to work on a common denominator: Preserving the territorial integrity of Syria.
But they also emphasize the importance of such efforts to play down tensions in Syria through greater diplomatic consultations.
Ali Semin, a Middle East expert at Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam, said this trilateral meeting is significant as it will be held between the heads of state of the three countries — not at the foreign ministerial level, as it was the case in the previous meetings.
“The more Turkey gains control and strength over Syrian territories, the more Iran considers it as a rival. Tehran doesn’t want to take so much responsibility, and therefore conducts proxy wars not only in Syria but also in Iraq and Yemen through its militia and Hezbollah,” Semin told Arab News.
But Semin is skeptical about the outcome of the meeting as he thinks that Iran has often deviated from Russia and Turkey on its Syria strategy as it prioritizes military means over political solutions.
“The only common denominator of these three countries is their commitment to preserve Syrian territorial integrity. But when it comes to Tehran, the words on the negotiation table of the trilateral meetings don’t match its deeds,” he said.
According to Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, these summit meetings are not only important to tackle the practical military issues but also to send signals to the West about the emergence of a Russia-Turkey-Iran axis in Syria.
“Russia is aware that the future of its influence in Syria very much depends on its ability to maintain its close dialogue with Turkey and Iran. This objective becomes even more important considering that currently Moscow, Ankara and Tehran all have significant disagreements with Washington,” Ersen told Arab News.
One thing is clear: The three countries depend on each other to reach their own goals in Syria and to resolve any unforeseen crisis, such as the recent downing of a Russian fighter jet in Syria’s northwestern Idlib’s skies by rebels. Russia, with the help of Turkey, has repatriated the pilot’s dead body and the debris of the plane.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed in a phone call on Wednesday to accelerate the establishment of observation points in Syria’s Idlib region as part of the commitments of the Astana deal brokered last year between the three guarantor countries.
The Turkish military recently completed construction of the sixth observation point in the Idlib region according to the Astana deal reached with Tehran and Moscow to establish, monitor and sustain the current cease-fire between pro-Assad forces and opposition fighters in the region.
Last month, in an interview with the state-run Anadolu agency, Cavusoglu urged Russia and Iran to fulfill their responsibilities under the Astana deal, and said that the advances of the Syrian army and allied forces into Idlib have been possible only with the support of Moscow and Tehran.
“Moscow and Tehran are uneasy about Turkey’s ongoing military operation in Afrin, however they are not in a position to alienate Ankara due to its key role in Idlib. Similarly, Turkey requires the support of Moscow and Tehran to reach the strategic objectives of Operation Olive Branch,” Ersen said.
“The dialogue between Moscow, Ankara and Tehran is important to achieve the key objectives of the Astana process as well as the Sochi congress, which was organized a few weeks ago. For Russia, both platforms are still very important instruments for maintaining its role as the main power broker in Syria. Therefore it will do its best to keep Turkey and Iran by its side,” he said.


Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

An intended visit to Tehran was canceled and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

  • Iran has maintained close ties to Iraq's government since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, Tehran's archenemy
  • The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its alleged support for international terrorism

BAGHDAD: Failure by Iraq to comply fully with tough new US economic sanctions against Iran would be insane, analysts told Arab News on Tuesday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi risked incurring US wrath after contradicting himself in the space of a few hours over whether his country would comply.
Amid diplomatic maneuvers, as he negotiates for a second term in office after divisive and contested elections, Abadi offended both Tehran and Washington with conflicting statements on the US sanctions, which were reimposed last week.
First, the prime minister said that while Iraq disapproved of the new sanctions, it would reluctantly comply. “We don’t support the sanctions because they are a strategic error, but we will comply with them,” he said.
“Our economic situation is also difficult and we sympathize with Iran. But. at the same time, I will not make grand slogans that destroy my people and my country just to make certain people happy.”
His position provoked anger in Iran. An intended visit to Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the issue was canceled, and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned.
There was also criticism inside Iraq, especially from groups close to Tehran, such as the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Badr paramilitary movements.
Within hours, however, Abadi had reversed his position. “I did not say we abide by the sanctions, I said we abide by not using dollars in transactions. We have no other choice,” Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad.
Asked if Baghdad would stop imports of commodities, appliances and equipment by government companies from Iran, he said the matter was still being reviewed. “We honestly have not made any decision regarding this issue until now,” he said.
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News: “Iraq can’t afford to be cut off from the dollar-based global financial system, so it makes sense to avoid sanctioned Iranian financial entities. Iraq should also protect its dollar reserves.
“These are the only sane options for a country that desperately needs international investment.”
Iraq is the second-largest purchaser of Iranian non-oil exports, and bought about $6 billion worth of goods in 2017. It also buys Iranian-generated electricity to deal with chronic power cuts that have been a key factor sparking mass protests in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the British renewable energy investor Quercus became the latest major company to pull out of Iran as a result of the new sanctions.
It halted construction of $570 million solar power plant in Iran, which would have been the sixth-largest in the world.