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

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.

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 26 May 2018

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

  • ‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News
  • US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

JEDDAH: Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” 

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.