US conveys support for Lebanon’s stability

President Aoun holds talks with US Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker in Beirut. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs Joel Rayburn was also present. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2019

US conveys support for Lebanon’s stability

  • Aoun expressed concern that the issue of Syrian refugees might be exploited politically rather than dealt with from a humanitarian point of view

BEIRUT:  Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Tuesday urged the US to help find a solution to a maritime border dispute with Israel, as Beirut aims to begin offshore oil and gas exploration.
Aoun made the request during talks with David Schenker, the US assistant secretary of state for the region, who is on a two-day visit to Lebanon as part of a regional tour.
Schenker recently replaced David Satterfield, who had shuffled between Lebanon and Israel in attempts to reach a settlement. “Lebanon hopes the US will continue its mediation efforts ... where things stopped with envoy David Satterfield,” Aoun said.
Aoun said Israel “continues its aggression against Lebanese sovereignty by land, air and sea, knowing that any escalation will bring down the stability that has been experienced in the border region since the July 2006 war.”
Schenker said the US was ready to “renew efforts toward the demarcation of land and sea borders in south Lebanon,” and was keen to strengthen bilateral relations, especially in terms of supporting the Lebanese military and security forces.
Schenker arrived in Beirut on Monday evening for his first visit to Lebanon as part of a tour of the region.
The US Embassy in Lebanon said his tour also includes Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and aims to “underscore the importance of bilateral relations and the deep commitment of the US to continue to work with its partners and allies to achieve stability in the Middle East and North Africa.”
In his meeting with Aoun, Schenker was joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs Joel Rayburn.

Aoun told Schenker Lebanon was proceeding with the return of Syrian refugees to their country, and that 352,000 had done so voluntarily, without problems in Syria.
 

HIGHLIGHTS

• Top US official says Washington is keen to strengthen bilateral relations, especially in terms of supporting the Lebanese military and security forces.

• President Michel Aoun expresses hope that the US will resume its mediation to demarcate land and sea borders in southern Lebanon.

Aoun urged the US to help in this regard, saying his country “can no longer bear more after the increasing number of refugees has resulted in negative repercussions on all Lebanese sectors.”
He reiterated his call for UN organizations and other humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to refugees in Syria as this will encourage them to return.
Aoun expressed concern that the issue of Syrian refugees might be exploited politically rather than dealt with from a humanitarian point of view. He thanked the US for its assistance to Lebanon in general, and the army in particular.
Schenker visited Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who said: “Lebanon ratified financial laws that make it conform to the highest international standards in the fight against financial trafficking and money laundering.”
Berri added: “Lebanon is keen to maintain stability, avoid getting dragged into war and abide by international resolutions. The Israeli enemy is responsible for … undermining the stability that has existed since 2006.”
His press office said he and Schenker discussed maritime borders. The latter’s first meeting in Beirut was with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Schenker also met with army officials.


Ankara accuses Tehran of betrayal: Is the alliance of convenience collapsing? 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold talks on Syrian crisis at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 23 October 2019

Ankara accuses Tehran of betrayal: Is the alliance of convenience collapsing? 

  • Erdogan says Iran betraying the consensus between the two countries

ANKARA: Recent developments on the ground in Syria may be proof of the demise of the already fragile partnership between Turkey and Iran, the two guarantor states of the Astana process alongside with Russia. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi announced that Iran rejected any move from Turkey to establish military posts inside Syria, and emphasized that the integrity of Tehran’s key regional ally should be respected.
Prior to departing for Sochi, to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “I condemn Iran’s stance on Operation Peace Spring. Unfortunately, there are splintering voices rising from Iran. This situation disturbs my colleagues and myself.”
Erdogan also accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries, after Tehran condemned Turkey’s ongoing operation in northern Syria against Syrian Kurdish forces and demanded “an immediate stop to the attacks and the exit of the Turkish military from Syrian territory.”
The statements are considered by experts another sign that the alliance of convenience between the two regional competitors is ending, with their regional interests beginning to conflict.
Iran has always been a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has been keen to engage Syrian Kurds, Assad’s government and Turkey in dialogue following Ankara’s offensive into northern Syria, within the framework of the Adana Agreement as a legal framework to establish security along the border.
Tehran also held surprise military drills near the Turkish border on the same day Turkey launched its operation into northern Syria.
Dr. Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies, said: “With the removal of US troops in northern Syria, which both Ankara and Tehran opposed for different reasons, Turkey and Iran’s conflicting strategic interests are now naturally coming to the forefront.”
Moreover, according to Tanchum, Iran has already fought elements of the paramilitary forces now that are now partnering with Turkey.
“Tehran is distressed that such elements are being empowered. While Iran needs Turkish cooperation in the face crippling US sanctions, Iran needs Russia’s cooperation much more,” he told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi says Iran rejected any move from Turkey to establish military posts inside Syria, and emphasized that the integrity of Tehran’s key regional ally should be respected.

• Iran has already fought the elements of the paramilitary forces that are now partnering with Turkey.

However, Tanchum thinks that the idea Tehran would triangulate between Ankara and Moscow as a way of preserving its own position in Syria seems quite unlikely.
“If Iran has to choose between Turkey and Russia in Syria, it will choose Russia. In this sense, the previous dynamics of the Astana process are no longer in place,” he said.
However, Dr. Bilgehan Alagoz, lecturer at Istanbul Marmara University’s Institute for Middle East Studies, said that rumors about the death of the Iranian-Turkish alliance in Syria may be a bit exaggerated, at least for now.
For Alagoz, Iran is hesitant about cooperation between Turkey and the US, which has the possibility of creating a confrontation against Iran’s interests in Syria.
“On the other hand, Iran is uncomfortable with the US military presence in Syria. Therefore, Iran is facing a dilemma,” she told Arab News.
According to Alagoz, at this point Iran needs to pursue diplomacy with both Turkey and Russia.
“Thus, I do not think that the Iranian statements against Turkey will continue for a long time,” she added.
With the civil war now in its eighth year in Syria, Assad’s forces have gradually gained control of strategic cities in northwestern Idlib province, like Khan Sheikhoun, with Russian and Iranian support. The Syrian regime also attacked Turkish military observation posts in the region over the summer.
In the meantime, in a surprise decision on Monday evening, Turkey appointed former Halkbank executive Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced to prison in the US over Iranian sanctions breaches, as the new CEO of the Istanbul Stock Exchange.