Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib

Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, talks to Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, left, during a visit to the German High School, in Istanbul. Maas is on a two-day visit to Turkey where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials. (AP Photo)
Updated 06 September 2018

Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib

Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib
  • As Ankara and Berlin try to mend ties, Maas tweeted in Turkish upon his arrival that Turkey is a partner of Germany
  • There are fears that an assault on Idlib could lead to 700,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey and trying to go to Europe from there

ANKARA: There has been heavy diplomatic traffic between Ankara and its Western allies since Russian warplanes began bombing Syria’s Idlib province, which borders Turkey and is home to more than 3 million civilians.

James Jeffrey, US special representative to Syria and a former ambassador to Turkey, visited Ankara on Tuesday, as did German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday. They met their counterparts to discuss Syria.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday.

“Both agreed any Assad regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

As Ankara and Berlin try to mend ties, Maas tweeted in Turkish upon his arrival that Turkey is a partner of Germany.

There are fears that an assault on Idlib could lead to 700,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey and trying to go to Europe from there.

The Syrian regime, with the backing of Iran and Russia, is gearing up for a major military offensive in the province, which is controlled by various armed opposition groups.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned of a potential massacre if missiles are fired into Idlib.

During a joint press conference with Maas, Cavusoglu condemned Russia’s bombing of the province, and said the Turkish and German positions on Syria overlap.

Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Project, told Arab News: “The looming regime assault on Idlib represents an ideal opportunity for the US, Europe and Turkey to work together to forestall a strategic and humanitarian disaster.”

He added: “While none are eager to see extremist groups remain in control of the territory, all three have more to lose from a regime takeover that sends militants and refugees flooding into Turkey and perhaps on to Europe.”

Without Western military and diplomatic backing, Turkey would seem to have little choice but to accept, if not help facilitate, the Syrian regime’s plans, Danforth said.

With a trilateral summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran set to take place on Friday, Ankara’s stance on Idlib diverges from that of Moscow and Tehran. The province was originally designated a “de-escalation zone” by the three countries.

Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst on Turkish-Russian relations and Eurasian affairs, said Ankara’s increasing contacts with its Western partners may have little, if any, impact on Russian policy in Syria.

“Other than the US and UK, the leading European countries don’t have a strong presence on the ground in Syria,” he told Arab News.

“Europeans’ negotiations with Turkey are mostly related to a possible new refugee influx and a transfer of the jihadist threat to Europe,” he said.

“I think Russia and the EU have similar perspectives on eliminating the terrorist and jihadist threat on the ground without causing mass migration into Turkey and so on.”

The US and UK “may try to disrupt Moscow’s plans in Idlib and Russian-Turkish relations in general, but preventing the Idlib operation doesn’t seem to be a priority for them,” Has said.

He anticipates that at the trilateral summit, Erdogan will ask Moscow for more time to persuade the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham jihadist alliance to lay down its arms, to prevent Syrian regime forces from entering the center of Idlib, and to permit the creation of a safe zone along Turkey’s border with the province for refugees and Ankara-backed rebels.

“But I’m not sure that most of these requests will be welcomed by Moscow,” Has said. “In that sense, I don’t expect a critical or meaningful impact from Turkey’s recent dialogue with its Western partners on Russian plans in Idlib.”


Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.