Idlib test for Turkey, Iran, Russia alliance on Syria
The Tehran summit between the presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran on Sept. 7 was perhaps one of the most transparent of such political talks ever; the entire discussion between them was broadcast live. It was there for everyone including American administration officials to watch live and listen to points on which the three presidents agree and differ.
The Astana talks group for the de-escalation of tension in Syria, which was formed in early 2017 by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russia President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seemingly agreed on the basics, such as the territorial sovereignty Syria, the need to have an end to terrorism and the continuation of joint efforts on finding an immediate solution to the Idlib crisis, hopefully in the next meeting.
Erdoğan underlined the need for a call to a ceasefire in Idlib to be added to the joint communique and Putin responded that as there were no representatives of armed groups, there was no need for that. In the joint press conference after the summit, Putin said upon the request of Erdoğan, the three were calling the sides in Idlib to lay down arms, adding that attacks on Syrian government forces could not be accepted.
Erdoğan and Rouhani underlined the need to clear all terrorists in Syria, including those east of the Euphrates river, implying groups affiliated with the illegal PKK, with which the United States has been collaborating. Putin, however, said the only terrorist spot in Syria was left in Idlib; Russia does not recognize the PKK as a terrorist group, unlike Turkey and Iran. When Erdoğan said Turkey was uneasy with the U.S. support to a terrorist group, he was not seconded by Putin.
Putin’s stance was firm: Russia is determined to carry out a massive attack on Idlib to crush the terrorists there without giving a second thought to the possible collateral damage to civilians; something Rouhani has highlighted as well. By saying he believed terrorists would act with “common sense” and lay down arms, he was perhaps thinking of making a gesture to his partners Erdoğan and Rouhani, especially to Erdoğan and giving some more time to “separate terrorists from civilians,” as Erdoğan has been urging.
Hours before the Tehran summit, Turkey’s position was supported by eight members of the United Nations Security Council members, all of them being members of the European Union. It is clear there will be a possible flow of Syrian immigrants and also terrorists into Turkey due to the large scale military attacks—as U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey has warned against preparations of a chemical attack, which is a matter of concern for the EU.
It is not in vain that Erdoğan has stressed that efforts should be paid in accordance with the “Astana spirit;” the Idlib crisis gives signals to be a test case for the future of the Turkey-Russia-Iran partnership over Syria.