Ball on Russian and Iranian side of court after Aleppo deal
Turkey played an important role in the process as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held numerous phone talks with their Russian and Iranian counterparts to secure the evacuation of civilians from besieged Aleppo.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu spoke to his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif a total of 10 times in 48 hours, as Shiite militias appeared to block the evacuation of the civilians from the city. After the first phase of evacuation early on Dec. 16, the process had to stall after clashes between rebels, regime forces and Shiite militias occurred, as each party accused the other of the suspension. Talks were underway to overcome the problem as of late afternoon on Dec. 16.
In the meantime, the Turkish government accelerated its efforts to provide humanitarian aid to civilians fleeing the town either to Idlib or to near the Turkish border. Turkey’s disaster agency was planning to build a tent city inside Syrian territory to provide shelter to evacuees. A number of Western and Arab countries have been indicating their willingness to help people leaving Aleppo as well.
However, there are serious concerns over the next phases of the civil war in Syria, once the Bashar al-Assad has fully captured Aleppo, the country’s second largest city. In his statements to international press outlets, al-Assad hinted that his fight against the rebels would continue elsewhere until he defeats them completely.
His next target is believed to be Idlib, a city to the west of Aleppo and only around 30 kilometers from the Turkish border. An attack on the city would create new atrocities, as well as a new wave of refugees flowing to the Turkish border.
That is why Ankara is pressing for a broader ceasefire between the regime and opposition groups, and for a resumption of negotiations to reach a political agreement. It’s not a coincidence that Çavuşoğlu has reiterated, once again, that the best solution to the Syrian unrest is a political one, and the two sides need to come together for a breakthrough.
In his statement to the media on Dec. 16, Çavuşoğlu recalled the U.N. Security Council’s resolution 2254, which was adopted in December 2015, stipulating a road map for a political transition in Syria but never implemented. This was a clear indication of Turkey’s willingness to support a new process involving both the regime and the opposition.
At this point, a proposal made by Russian President Vladimir Putin to arrange talks between the two sides in Kazakhstan’s Astana is garnering attention. Putin has given no details, apart from saying that he had agreed on future Astana talks with President Erdoğan. This is seen as a new attempt by Russia to exclude major Western powers from the Syria talks by relocating the venue from Geneva to Astana.
Çavuşoğlu said Putin’s proposal needed to be analyzed, adding that potential Astana talks would only be “complementary” rather than an “alternative” to the Geneva process.
Al-Assad’s capturing of Aleppo will certainly change both the political and military balances in Syria to the advantage of the Damascus-Moscow-Tehran trio. It is rational for Turkey to press on these actors for a general cease-fire across the entire country so that political talks can take place, aiming to end years of unrest in its southern neighbor.
The ball is now with Russia and Iran in order to convince al-Assad for a cease-fire and genuine political talks