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.


Netanyahu and Bolton urge Europe to pressure Iran

John Bolton’s talks in Israel focused on Iran and its presence in Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 21 August 2018
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Netanyahu and Bolton urge Europe to pressure Iran

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton met in Jerusalem on Monday and called on European nations to do more to pressure Iran.
Bolton arrived in Israel on Sunday for three days of talks expected to focus mainly on Iran and its presence in Syria.
Netanyahu strongly urged Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal between Israel’s main enemy Iran and world powers, and the US president did so in May, resulting in the reimposition of sanctions.
Israel and the US have been closely aligned on their approach to Iran since Trump took office.
“I frankly believe that all countries who care about peace and security in the Middle East should follow America’s lead and ratchet up the pressure on Iran,” Netanyahu said.
“Because the greater the pressure on Iran, the greater the chance that the regime will roll back its aggression. And everybody should join this effort.”
The comments were a veiled reference to European countries, which are seeking to save the nuclear deal and have vowed to keep providing Iran with the economic benefits it received from the accord.
They argue that the nuclear deal is working as intended in keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for now.
Bolton said “it’s a question of the highest importance for the United States that Iran never get a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.”
“It’s why President Trump withdrew from the wretched Iran nuclear deal,” he said, speaking alongside Netanyahu.
“It’s why we’ve worked with our friends in Europe to convince them of the need to take stronger steps against the Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.”
The US and Israel argue the deal was too limited in scope and timeframe while also allowing Iran to finance militant activities in the region due to the lifting of sanctions.
Bolton’s trip will also take him later in the week to Ukraine and Geneva, where he will meet with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev on Thursday.
The meeting in Geneva is a follow-up to Trump’s highly controversial July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, according to the White House.
Iran is backing Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war along with Russia and Hezbollah.
Netanyahu has pledged to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, and a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians there have been attributed to Israel.
He has also pressed Putin to guarantee that Iranian forces in Syria and their allies, such as Hezbollah, will be kept far away from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Slow process
Washington has said Iran’s only chance of avoiding the sanctions would be to accept Trump’s offer to negotiate a tougher nuclear deal. Iranian officials have repeatedly rejected the offer.
“We do not want to revisit that nuclear deal. We want the United States to implement that (2015) nuclear deal” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN on Sunday.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi on Monday urged Europe to speed up efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal.
“Europeans and other signatories of the deal have been trying to save the deal ... but the process has been slow. It should be accelerated,” the spokesman said.
“Iran relies mainly on its own capabilities to overcome America’s new sanctions,” he said.
Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said France’s Total has formally left a contract to develop Iran’s South Pars Gas project. “The process to replace (Total) with another company is underway,” he was quoted as saying by state TV.
Total signed the deal in 2017 with an initial investment of $1 billion.

President Hassan Rouhani is facing a growing domestic backlash since Trump pulled out from the international accord
Iranian lawmakers have launched impeachment proceedings against the finance minister, ramping up pressure on Rouhani who is already facing attacks from hardliners over his handling of the economy in the face of new US sanctions.
A group of 33 MPs signed a motion accusing the minister, Masoud Karbasian, of being unable to manage the economy or form and implement policies.
That was enough votes to force Karbasian to come to Parliament to answer questions on his record in the next 10 days.
If lawmakers are unhappy with his answers, they can vote to impeach and sack him — a move they took two weeks ago against Iran’s then minister of cooperatives, labour and social welfare, Ali Rabiei, after questioning his achievements.