Four-way Istanbul summit will not turn into an anti-Trump show
The leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany will come together in a first-of-its kind summit in Istanbul on Oct. 27 in a bid to discuss all the dimensions of the ongoing Syrian civil war. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will host Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a four-way format that has never been done before.
Statements issued by the Turkish and French presidential offices have made clear that the main agenda of the summit will be Syria with all its aspects. Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy advisor, İbrahim Kalın, said on Oct. 19, “The summit will aim to address the Syrian conflict with all its aspects, focusing on the situation on the ground, the Idlib agreement and the political process, and to harmonize joint efforts to find a lasting solution to the conflict.
The office of the French president has highlighted efforts to avoid fresh refugee inflows, to maintain the ceasefire in the Idlib province of Syria and to give a momentum to the peace talks in between as the main issues to be raised at the meeting.
As can be seen in both statements, the original idea in making such a summit possible is to carry out broad assessments on the course of events in the war-torn country and to find ways to deal with them in a concerted way.
Above all, the summit can create a new bond between the United States-led Small Group and the Astana Process of Turkey and Russia.
In fact, these four countries agree on more issues than they disagree when it comes to ending violence in Syria and to resolving the nearly eight-year turmoil. One of the common priorities is to eliminate all terrorist groups and their foreign fighters in the country. The fight against ISIL is nearly done, although there is still a sizeable jihadist presence in Idlib.
One important difference is with regard to the status of the PYD/YPG, considered terrorist by Turkey, while all three nations see them as a political party. The PYD/YPG still has a bureau in Moscow while its top officials had been welcomed by Macron in Elyseé Palace last year.
Second commonality is about the situation in the said province that stands as the last bastion for the jihadist groups. No party wishes to see a new humanitarian disaster in the highly populated area through a blanket military campaign that does not separate civilians from armed terrorists. As a matter of fact, what made such a summit possible is the Turkish-Russian deal that prevented a Syrian incursion.
The third is about the need to accelerate efforts for a political settlement in Syria. Turkey and Russia had contributed in the establishment of an inclusive committee tasked to write the new Syrian constitution. The committee had its first meetings in Geneva in recent months under the leadership of the U.N. and with respect to resolution 2254 by the U.N. Security Council.
All countries have already outlined that the protection of Syria’s territorial integrity stands as one of their primary objectives.
There are, however, important disagreements as well. Russia seems to remain a strong advocate – both militarily and politically – for the continued leadership of Bashar al-Assad. Russia will unlikely hesitate in lending an important support to the Syrian army in the event that radical groups insist in not pulling back from the demilitarized zone and in not dropping their arms in the coming period.
The leaders will also discuss the plans for the future reconstruction of Syria. Russia’s demand is to mobilize EU countries to finance the multibillion dollar reconstruction cost, but both France and Germany underline they will not give even a cent before seeing a genuine political settlement in Syria.
One other aspect shared by Turkey, Germany and France is that this summit should never be evaluated as an anti-U.S. or anti-Trump meeting. The agenda of the summit is planned to be restricted to Syria, although any country can raise issues to its own concern. However, diplomatic sources from these three countries underline that in no case will this summit turn into an anti-Trump show.