Can Putin’s Syria peace plea reconcile Tehran and Ankara?

Vladimir Putin speaks with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani during a video conference call, dedicated to the conflict in Syria, in Moscow, Russia, July 1, 2020. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 04 July 2020

Can Putin’s Syria peace plea reconcile Tehran and Ankara?

  • To what extent the three countries can agree on genuine political transition remains unclear, especially with Ankara and Tehran supporting vastly different regional agendas
  • During the televised video conference, Rouhani again pledged his country’s support for the “legal government of Bashar Assad”

ANKARA: Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged his counterparts in Turkey and Iran to encourage peaceful dialogue between rival forces in Syria in a bid to end the country’s bitter 9-year war.

Speaking during a televised video conference with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani on July 1, the Russian leader said: “An inclusive inter-Syrian dialogue should be actively promoted within the framework of the constitutional committee in Geneva. I propose to support this process, to help the participants to meet and start a direct dialogue.”

To what extent the three countries can agree on genuine political transition remains unclear, however, especially with Ankara and Tehran supporting vastly different regional agendas.

But Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, believes one thing is certain: In Idlib, the so-called “Astana three” have effectively become the “Astana two,” with Ankara and Moscow excluding Iran.

“This, in turn, gives Iran added motivation to undermine any Turkish-Russian deal,” he told Arab News.

“While both Iran and Turkish interests are aligned when it comes to opposing the territorial disintegration of Syria and a larger US role, their priorities conflict almost on everything else,” he said.

“They can try to keep a conflict management process on track, but the divergence between them is only getting larger.”

Russia and Iran have been the main supporters of President Bashar Assad’s regime, while Turkey backs the opposition. The three countries began cooperating to reduce the fighting in Syria as part of a diplomatic process dating back to 2017.

Bedir Mulla Reshid, a researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that Iran and Turkey have been in indirect confrontation on Syria since the civil war began.

“Turkey has supported the Syrian political and military opposition, both in the face of the Assad regime and the sectarian militias sent to Syria by Iran. As for Iran, from the first day it stood beside Assad regime, and is one of the two main parties that refused to allow the regime to fall,” he told Arab News.  

During the televised video conference, Rouhani again pledged his country’s support for the “legal government of Bashar Assad.”

The next trilateral meeting between the guarantor countries is expected to be held in Iran, but a date has yet to be specified.

Meanwhile, a third round of Syrian constitutional committee talks overseen by the UN are set to be held next month.

The 150-member committee, which was launched in Geneva on October 2019, includes Syrian government and opposition leaders, as well as civic representatives.

Ankara has stopped the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which it considers a terror group, from taking part in the Geneva talks.

According to Reshid, Iran hopes to strengthen its influence in Syria through its military militias and relief institutions.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign policy analyst at the Washington-based Arab Center, said that regional dynamics, especially the US Caesar Act sanctions on Syria, “make it difficult to imagine a path forward to reach a political settlement.”

The Caesar Act entered into force on June 17, 2020, with sanctions targeting the Syrian government for war crimes.

“Idlib remains a contentious issue between Turkey and Russia, while competition continues between Moscow and Washington in northeast Syria,” Macaron told Arab News.

He said that the rival countries “seem to be interested in buying time to consolidate their influence” and are not ready to resolve the conflict under the current terms.

However, the Syrian regime’s willingness to implement a political transition by giving concessions is also open to doubt.

“Damascus blocked the political process and tried to disrupt committee meetings in Geneva,” Anton Mardasov, a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute’s Syria program, told Arab News.

“This whole process is a fiction, which Russia is trying to demonstrate under the guise of a real compromise,” he added.

Mardasov believes that a compromise solution is unlikely in a short term, with presidential elections due in Syria and Iran in 2021.

“Moscow is trying to return to the idea of ​​a transitional government. The main focus of the negotiations between Turkey and Russia seems to be about the eastern part of Syria. Moscow is likely to approve Ankara’s operations to put pressure on the Kurds again,” he said.


Lebanon’s leaders face rage, calls for reform after blast

Updated 07 August 2020

Lebanon’s leaders face rage, calls for reform after blast

  • State media reported late Thursday that security forces fired tear gas in central Beirut to disperse dozens of anti-government demonstrators
  • Some protesters were injured

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s leadership faced growing rage after a massive explosion laid waste to large parts of central Beirut, with security forces firing tear gas at demonstrations late Thursday as international leaders called for reform.
Shock has turned to anger in a traumatized nation where at least 149 people died and more than 5,000 were injured in Tuesday’s colossal explosion of a huge pile of ammonium nitrate that had languished for years in a port warehouse.
To many Lebanese, it was tragic proof of the rot at the core of their governing system, which has failed to halt the deepest economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and has plunged millions into poverty.
State media reported late Thursday that security forces fired tear gas in central Beirut to disperse dozens of anti-government demonstrators enraged by the blast.
Some in the small protest were wounded, the National News Agency reported.
Earlier, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to lead international emergency relief efforts and organize an aid conference in the coming days, promising that “Lebanon is not alone.”
But he also warned that the country — already in desperate need of a multi-billion-dollar bailout and hit by political turmoil since October — would “continue to sink” unless it implements urgent reforms.
Speaking of Lebanon’s political leaders, Macron said “their responsibility is huge — that of a revamped pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks, that of deep change.”
The International Monetary Fund, whose talks with Lebanon started in May but have since stalled, warned that it was “essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms.”
The IMF urged Lebanon — which is seeking more than $20 billion in external funding and now faces billions more in disaster costs — “to put in place a meaningful program to turn around the economy” following Tuesday’s disaster.
Macron’s visit to the small Mediterranean country, a French protectorate during colonial times, was the first by a foreign head of state since the disaster.
The French president visited Beirut’s harborside blast zone, a wasteland of blackened ruins, rubble and charred debris where a 140-meter-wide (460-foot-wide) crater has filled with seawater.
As he inspected a devastated pharmacy, crowds outside vented their fury at the country’s “terrorist” leadership, shouting “revolution” and “the people want an end to the regime!.”
Later Macron was thronged by survivors who pleaded with him to help get rid of their reviled ruling elite.
Another woman implored Macron to keep French financial aid out of the reach of Lebanese officials, accused by many of their people of rampant graft and greed.
“I guarantee you that this aid will not fall into corrupt hands,” the president pledged.
Macron later told BFMTV he was not presenting Lebanon’s leadership with a “diktat” after some of the political class criticized his remarks as interference.
Compounding their woes, Lebanon recorded 255 coronavirus cases Thursday — its highest single-day infection tally — after the blast upended a planned lockdown and sent thousands streaming into overflowing hospitals.
The disaster death toll rose from 137 to 149 on Thursday evening, the health ministry said, and was expected to further rise as rescue workers kept digging through the rubble.
Even as they counted their dead, many Lebanese were consumed with anger over the blast.
“We can’t bear more than this. This is it. The whole system has got to go,” said 30-year-old Mohammad Suyur.
The small demonstration on Thursday night, as well as a flood of angry social media posts, suggested the disaster could reignite a cross-sectarian protest movement that erupted in October but faded because of the grinding economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun have promised to put the culprits responsible for the disaster behind bars.
A military prosecutor announced 16 port staff had been detained over the blast.
But trust in institutions is low and few on Beirut’s streets hold out hope for an impartial inquiry.
Amid the fury and gloom, the explosion’s aftermath has also yielded countless uplifting examples of spontaneous solidarity.
Business owners swiftly posted offers to repair doors, paint damaged walls or replace shattered windows for free.
Lebanon’s diaspora, believed to be nearly three times the tiny country’s five million population, has rushed to launch fundraisers and wire money to loved ones.
In Beirut, volunteers handled much of the cleanup.
Husam Abu Nasr, a 30-year-old volunteer, said: “We don’t have a state to take these steps, so we took matters into our own hands.”