Will Assad attend the next Astana talks? • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Will Assad attend the next Astana talks?

The presence of the Syrian leader or his absence does not change anything.

The photos showing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian leader Ibrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin together during the Astana summit talks held in Tehran last week, did not reflect the real differences between them.

The conflicting interests and visions between the three nations have sparked the Russian bombing of civilians in northwestern Syria and the Turkish strikes that targeted Syrian government forces.

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, was, as usual, the proverbial elephant in the room. He was present and yet absent. However, in his absence, things were different this time. His biggest supporter, Putin, is no longer the Russian leader he used to be. He is more vulnerable politically and economically although he is militarily more aggressive and more wedded to Russia’s vision of how its interests are to be served in Europe, Asia, and of course in Syria and the rest of the world. Putin is also today more than ever needs to keep hold of his allies.

The outlines of the Iranian project are clear and there is no dispute about them. But Erdogan’s problems, however, lie with Putin, who has offered to host the next Astana summit talks in Russia. These problems have to do with Assad.

When Putin said that the three leaders want to see “concrete measures” on Syria, he was in fact throwing the ball into Erdogan’s court as he expected the Turkish president to pressure the Syrian opposition.

Although the Russians suspended the meetings of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, Putin has hinted at the possibility of helping that committee resume its work without further interruption.

The Russian president was clear about the issues discussed at the Tehran summit. It seems that Syria was not at the top of the agenda. Trade between Moscow and Tehran (in national currencies instead of the dollar) and the development of Russian-Turkish economic relations “despite of everything,” as Putin put it, was much more important than discussion on the stalled Syria talks.

The “despite of everything” expression that Putin used, shows exactly the predicament that the Turkish president faces in Tehran. His Russian and Iranian allies want him to close the chapter of the dispute with the Syrian regime. They want him to deal realistically with Damascus, as they say. They believe the regime is there to stay and must be included in the talks whether now or tomorrow.

For the Damascus regime, the Astana summit is an opportunity to stop the Turkish operation against the SDF militias, which are dominated by another ally of Assad, the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Syria.

Of course, Assad does not want a military confrontation with Turkey. As for his wish to prevent Turkey from targeting the SDF, it falls within his efforts to re-establish his control over the entire Syrian territory and weaken all his rivals.

In Tehran, the three presidents agreed, according to the final summit statement to reject any plans to divide Syria, to commit to the country’s sovereignty and to prevent attempts to create a new reality on the ground. This included what are known as self-rule initiatives, as well as the looting of oil revenues east of the Euphrates.

As much as these positions reassure the Syrians because they reject the separatist project in the north and northeast of Syria, they also assuage the Turks. They implicitly send a message that Assad will not allow the Kurds in the end to cross the red lines.

Through this message, the Russians wanted to nudge the Turks towards normalising their relations with Assad. However, the Turks view Assad and the entire situation in Syria only as a national security concern. They see it as part of their overall vision of the fight against terrorist threats, whether posed by the Kurdistan Workers Party or by ISIS. The security track has allowed for coordination between the Turkish and Syrian sides. So Ankara does not feel the need to add political coordination to that track.

The most serious problem is between the Russians and the Iranians. Although they agree to condemn the Israeli attacks on Syrian territory, the Russians do control the entire Syrian airspace. Coordination between them and the Israelis is an ongoing reality, whether before and after Israel launches its strikes against Iranian militias. Tehran and Moscow have also differences over oil market policies and the nuclear deal.

The differences between the Iranians, the Russians and the Turks at that summit, over wheat, drones, oil and security, were greater than the Syrian issue and greater than the Syrian regime itself. The decision taken by the three leaders to put some order in their differences of views “despite of everything” is enough to save the Astana understandings. This makes Assad a guest whose presence or absence does not change anything.



Source: The Arab Weekly  

By: Ibrahim Aljabin

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Observatory.