Erdogan, Putin, Rouhani to meet next week on Syria

Special Erdogan, Putin, Rouhani to meet next week on Syria
from left: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Updated 16 November 2017

Erdogan, Putin, Rouhani to meet next week on Syria

Erdogan, Putin, Rouhani to meet next week on Syria

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Nov. 22 for the second time in nine days, Turkish broadcaster NTV reported on Thursday.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani will also join the talks, on the latest developments in Syria, in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

It will be the seventh time that Erdogan and Putin will have met this year. Their previous one-to-one meeting was held on Nov. 13 for about four hours in Sochi.

According to the Astana agreement brokered in September, Russia, Turkey and Iran are the guarantor countries for the ongoing cease-fire in Syria.

The establishment of “de-escalation zones” and cease-fire monitoring missions have resulted in decreased fighting in northern Syria.

Mete Sohtaoglu, an independent researcher on the Middle East, said he expects another tripartite meeting before the end of the year.

“This tripartite meeting can be seen as a diplomatic move against the military presence and influence of the US in Syria,” Sohtaoglu told Arab News.

“They’re likely to brand the US military as an occupying force, and will ask it to withdraw from the region.”

Sohtaoglu said he expects the guarantor countries to demand that the Syrian Kurds hand areas they control over to Damascus.

“This meeting is also likely to result in the disarming of rebel-held Idlib province in northern Syria via joint diplomatic and military initiatives by Moscow and Ankara,” he said.

“Meanwhile, Iran and Russia will try to disarm the Syrian-Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) in Afrin province.”

Sohtaoglu said what is critical for Ankara is the town of Tal Rifat in Afrin, which is held by the YPG.

Turkey seeks to control arms supplies to the province so as to weaken the militia in northern Syria, he added.

“During the meeting, the trio will also agree on a precise transition calendar for the Assad regime. I assume they’ll tie the end of the regime with elections held under UN supervision,” Sohtaoglu said. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime, while Turkey has backed rebels seeking its ouster.

Dr. Dimitar Bechev, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said the YPG’s fate has been a main reason why Putin and Erdogan have held frequent meetings.

“Erdogan wants to deal with Kurdish-held Afrin. Putin is reluctant to let go of the Syrian Kurds, pressing Ankara to accept their participation in talks on the future of Syria,” Bechev told Arab News.

But he said for a lasting settlement to the conflict, the UN-led Geneva process is still needed, taking into account other regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as this week’s US announcement that it will stay in Syria as long as it takes to guarantee a political transition.

In early December, a meeting with about 1,000 participants from various parties to the conflict is expected to be held in Sochi.

Ali Semin, a Middle East expert at Bilgesam, an Istanbul-based think tank, said Ankara seems to have abandoned its initial aim of ousting Bashar Assad.

“Following these two meetings in Sochi, Assad will probably stay in power at least until presidential elections set to be held in 2019,” Semin told Arab News.

“The prime minister will be an opposition figure who is backed by Ankara and is looked upon positively by others,” he said.

“Turkey, Russia and Iran have become power brokers in Syria, while the US aims to use the YPG as a bargaining chip for its regional goals against Russia,” he added. “Washington’s priority now is to strengthen the Syrian-Kurdish presence in northern Syria.”