Idlib bombing raises doubts over future of Astana agreement

Turkey had already been discussing extending patrols to Tal Rifaat, in northern Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 15 March 2019

Idlib bombing raises doubts over future of Astana agreement

  • Moscow claims strikes had been coordinated with Turkey, but Ankara denies that
  • Some experts see the bombing as a sign that Moscow is turning the screw on Erdogan

ANKARA: An escalation of heavy air and artillery strikes on Idlib in northwestern Syria on Wednesday night has raised doubts over the future of the Astana deal between Turkey, Russia and Iran. 

Moscow claimed the bombing of Syria’s last rebel stronghold had been coordinated with Turkey, but this was denied by Ankara.

Under the deal, Turkey was expected to persuade rebel groups to remove heavy weaponry from a designated buffer zone, and convince hard-line groups, including Al-Qaeda affiliated Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), to withdraw completely from major highways as part of a “de-escalation” process.

But HTS fighters remain in place, controlling 80 percent of the region, and criticism of Ankara for failing to honor its part of the agreement is becoming more acute.

Some experts see the bombing as a sign that Moscow is turning the screw on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, either to assume more responsibility or renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Turkey had already been discussing extending patrols to Tal Rifaat, in northern Aleppo, with the Russians after Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced similar cooperation would happen in Idlib.

“Perhaps Moscow is trying to raise the stakes to get constructive talks with Ankara on Idlib and find a solution to the future of HTS,” Anton Mardasov, military affairs expert and head of the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Moscow-based Institute for Innovative Development, told Arab News.

“It’s not profitable for Ankara to confirm the coordination of strikes with Moscow, though the strikes can be used by Turkey to increase pressure on HTS to accept their terms.   

“Negotiations will be beneficial for Russia, to demonstrate a successful Syrian strategy. For Turkey, it is also an opportunity to advance its agenda, although Ankara has long been thinking about balancing its position by intensifying negotiations with its European partners in NATO.”

Turkey is also discussing establishing a joint coordination center in Idlib to manage operations at the behest of the Kremlin, which has criticized Ankara’s lack of engagement in recent months. 

“If there is no political progress, Russia always resorts to hard power moves to motivate their partners. That’s how they will push Turkey to do more,” Yury Barmin, Middle East and North Africa director at the Moscow Policy Group, told Arab News. 

“These attacks are happening against the background of the EU Conference on Syria in Brussels. The Russians are trying to put Syria on the radar of the Europeans to intervene,” he added.

According to Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, Ankara may have approved Russian operations against HTS, but would be reluctant to let its allies believe it was complicit in them. 

“With the current tensions in US-Turkish relations, Ankara has no option but to manage its marriage of convenience with Moscow,” he said.


Iranian hard-liners in parliament reject president’s nominee

Updated 12 August 2020

Iranian hard-liners in parliament reject president’s nominee

  • According to the parliament’s website, lawmakers rejected Hossein Modares Khiabani’s nomination for minister of trade and industries
  • Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said the vote was 140-104 against the nominee

TEHRAN, Iran: Iranian hard-liners in parliament on Wednesday voted against President Hassan Rouhani’s nominee for trade minister in the first showdown between the rival camps since the house resumed work in May despite the struggles to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
According to the parliament’s website, lawmakers rejected Hossein Modares Khiabani’s nomination for minister of trade and industries.
Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said the vote was 140-104 against the nominee. There were 254 lawmakers at the session and 10 abstained. The parliament has 290 seats.
The vote marked the first serious confrontation between the newly elected house, dominated by conservatives and the bloc of supporters of the relatively moderate Rouhani. Under the law, Rouhani must introduce new nominees to his Cabinet in the next three months.
Rouhani in May dismissed the trade and industry minister at the time, Reza Rahmani, as Iran faced an unprecedented economic downturn amid intense pressure from the United States after President Donald Trump pulled America out of Iran’s nuclear with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the country. Khiabani, 52, had since been the acting trade minister.
Iran is also grappling with the largest and deadliest outbreak of the coronavirus in the Middle East, with more than 331,000 confirmed cases and at least 18,800 deaths.