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Expert: Tripartite Format Crucial for Ending War in Syria

Can the Moscow-Ankara-Tehran triangle overcome the barrier in the way of Syrian peace on the front of Idlib?

11.09.2018 13:53 Prof.Dr. Mesut CASIN, Head of Department International Relations İstinye University, İstanbul

Expert: Tripartite Format Crucial for Ending War in Syria
Context:

A bloody civil war in Syria that’s started with the Arab Spring and the preference of military force over diplomatic channels still rages on. UN agencies fear that yet another wave of an humanitarian disaster is at hand, with the United States signalling that a third use of chemical weapons would be met with an armed intervention. Twelve Turkish military outposts are located in the Idlib governorate, as per the agreement on the formation of a de-escalation zone with Tehran and Moscow. Mutual accusations about Russia's use of chemical weapons and Russian Navy’s exercises in the Mediterranean were causes for concern for the international community. EU and Germany have supported the prevention of a new migration wave to Turkey, as thousands rush for the safety of the Turkish border, with NATO remaining concerned and vigilant about development.

 

As per the framework of the resolutions of the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump, Russian troops remain deployed in the border security facility located in safe zone in the Golan Heights. Concordantly, Israel continues with air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria. 

The historic and highly anticipated summit was concluded last week. Coincidentally, the UN envoy for Syria; Staffan de Mistura, suggested in the Security Council meeting conducted at UN headquarters, that a sufficient number of secure voluntary evacuation routes be established for civilians. Through the talks in Tehran, The Kremlin maintained that the presence of Russian airforce in Idlib would neutralize terrorist groups, and suggested that the United States must withdraw military forces from the territory. Turkey upheld the thesis that the terrorist forces must leave the area while emphasising the importance of preventing civil casualties and mass migration. President Erdoğan also expressed the fear of a massacre that the YPG and PKK forces that the US arms might commit, underlining that such arming is contrary to the law, and that the terrorists need to leave the area.

 

At the Tehran summit, leaders of the Astana trio were for “normalisation”, and the possibility of achieving peace with some rebel groups through diplomacy. The leaders discussed the means of protecting civilians and providing relief while allowing humanitarian groups to access the overcrowded province and its surrounding areas. A joint statement established that solution to the Syrian conflict can be imposed through the political channels and reaffirmed the belief that the conflict can be terminated. Turkey, Russia and Iran were motivated to carry out the talks on Idlib in accordance with the spirit of cooperation achieved in Astana. However, Turkey’s push for ceasefire was rejected by Russia and Iran, as the leaders maintained that Damascus has the right to deal with terrorist threats.

 From a Russian perspective, a peace agreement could possibly be struck with some opposition groups in Idlib. President Putin of Russian Federation expressed that it is their hope …”that representatives of terrorist organisations will have enough common sense to stop resistance and lay down (their) weapons, and that the "call for peace in Idlib zone as well will be heard.” Russian President Putin stated, “We will strive for peace among all warring sides, and we have never factored in terrorist organisations… We have agreed to a joint statement. We will use the format in Astana for a solution in Syria. With the proposal of the President of the Republic of Turkey, we have asked all parties to lay down their weapons. It is our priority to completely eradicate terrorism in Syria. Syrian opposition groups are beginning to no longer join the fight against terrorism.”

Iran's President Rouhani maintained that fighting "terrorism" in Idlib and the rest of Syria was "an unavoidable part" of restoring stability to Syria, though he also stressed that “…this battle must not cause civilians to suffer or lead to a scorched earth policy.”

Turkish President Erdoğan said that "An attack on Idlib will result in a disaster, a massacre and a very big humanitarian tragedy,” warning that as Turkey is already hosting millions of Syrian refugees, it would be impossible to take in more. He also pointed out, “As we have been focusing on Idlib, as everyone has turned their sight here, dangerous incidents are happening in the East of Euphrates. Some of the steps taken in the context to combat Daesh are now headed in a different reaction, and that is an undeniable fact.” Erdoğan underlined that “…the conclusion achieved in today’s meeting, that of a ceasefire, is a very clear message to any terrorist group,” and that the "protection of the civilian population in the region, and the current status of the preservation of the separation of Idlib from terrorist elements” is of “vital importance.” President Erdoğan also adressed the subject of Idlib through his article recently published on the American Wall Street Journal, stating that the resolution attempts in Syria are “at a critical juncture again” and referring to Idlib as “the last exit before the toll” and predicting that a “regime assault would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond.”

Erdoğan further stressed that “Innocent people must not be sacrificed in the name of fighting terrorism” and that the international community must rise to meet up to the responsibility, as should the international community “fail to take action now, not only innocent Syrians but the entire world stands to pay the price. Erdoğan also pointed out that the responsibility of Russia and Iran, saying, “Our partners in Astana process…are likewise responsible for stopping this humanitarian disaster.”

The Tehran summit hosted the expression of different opinions, along with the agreement of the on the preservation of Syria's territorial integrity. While Russia's attitude is a most critical element in the fight against terrorism, it can be assumed that the conflict in Idlib will continue for a while. Despite U.S. pressure, the Russia-Turkey partnership has been put to test more than once, and will ultimately grow stronger through the new stage of the attempt of solving the Syrian crisis.
Ankara's concerns on preventing a possible massacre in Turkey is in line with those of President Putin’s, and it is in the interest of both countries to become partners. The talk of S-400 missiles has maintained its position in the dialogues. Finally, as an answer to the question central to this short review, the Astana talks continue to act as a barrier that can keep the war from raging further. President Putin similarly stressed that Russia, Turkey and Iran are to continue with their efforts to combat terrorism, emphasising the suitability of the Astana format for the renormalisation of Syria, and the Astana model is beneficial for the management of the normalisation. Mutual agreement on the use of diplomacy, preserving Syria's territorial integrity and the the drafting of a Constitution are major sources of hope for the country. For ensuring a lasting peace in Syria, the goal of protecting innocent civilians and the need to facilitate the return of immigrants to their own homeland must be kept foremost in mind and this critical tripartite partnership must be sustained in a stable manner. It is our thought that the entire global community, gathered under the scope of the United nations, will act in accordance with the international law and the General Assembly that is to convene on the 23rd of September is will facilitate progression in normalisation. 

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