The Tehran summit failed to ease Idlib tensions

The Tehran summit failed to ease Idlib tensions

The Idlib tension as a threshold for a new stage of conflict in Syria remained as it was, if not worsened, despite the Astana talks between the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran in Tehran on Sept. 7.

There were hopes raised by officials not only from those three countries but from United States and EU officials for example, regarding the Tehran summit. German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass had openly said his country backed Turkey’s position on Idlib.

Right before the three leaders met in Tehran, eight EU members of the current United Nations Security Council had issued a statement in support of Turkey’s stance to separate terrorists from civilians and avoiding collateral damage while fighting against terrorists. The EU countries also share Turkey’s concerns about a new wave of immigrants and terrorists from Syria in case of a massive and careless attack on Idlib.

Before the three party summit, all three leaders, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdoğan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani had bilateral talks among each other. The surprise came in the form of a live broadcast of the summit; a decision taken by the host, the Iranians.

The live broadcast of the summit clearly showed there was a serious difference of opinions between the three Astana process partners. For example, they were not on the same page regarding a ceasefire in Idlib. But in late 2017, they had agreed to declare a ceasefire in four de-escalation zones in Syria and would monitor the ceasefire between the Syrian army and what is called “armed opposition” groups rather than terrorists such as Daesh and al-Qaeda affiliated ones.

Idlib was among them; Turkey had set up 12 military posts around Idlib to observe the ceasefire. When Erdoğan insisted live on the need to insert a “ceasefire” article in the final communique, millions of viewers watched it be turned down by Putin. That might turn into a political advantage for Turkey, if not in the short run.

It was also observed that the three countries were not on the same page on the definition of terrorism and the U.S. presence in Syria. Both Erdoğan and Rouhani were keen on clearing terrorists from east of the Euphrates after Idlib. Putin’s answer was that he saw Idlib as the only point of concern regarding terrorists. That may be because the illegal PKK, which acts as the ground force of the Americans, is not on the terrorist list of Russians, unlike Turkey, Iran and the U.S.

Putin obviously wanted to leave negotiation channels open with both the U.S. and the PKK and demonstrated it live. It was also obvious Putin would not dump Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the time being, as the two NATO allies, Turkey and the U.S. are having big problems between them. He must have been enjoying the news about that.

On his way back to Turkey, Erdoğan told reporters on board the plane that Ankara would not accept a “fait accompli” in Syria. Perhaps he also meant the live broadcast of the Tehran meeting, but more than that, the Russian forcing. Following the serious crisis between Turkey and Russia due to the downing of a Russian jet, killing two pilots in 2015, the two countries had agreed to move on thanks to Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev and Turkish businessman Cavit Çağlar in 2016, only three weeks before the military coup attempt in Turkey.

Since then, Ankara and Moscow have been on good relations, which makes the U.S. uncomfortable due to the purchase of the Russian S-400 missiles by Turkey, which was followed by American threats to stop the sale of F-35 jets, of which Turkey is a co-producer. Russian tourists are back in Turkey and the two (or rather three countries including Iran) are considering to de-dollarize the trade among them in reaction to U.S. sanctions.

There is also the problem of the arrested pastor Andrew Brunson, which has been made a key issue by the U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence team, as they are heading for midterm elections in November. But if politics can take such sharp turns in such a short period of time, it can take a sharp turn again nowadays, don’t you think so?

Turkey, Syria, Idlib