Alwaght- Having started the normalization process with Syria from last summer, Turkey is seeking to conclude the talks with assistance from Syria’s backers and resume the relations with its southern neighbor. To this end, a Moscow-hosted quadrilateral meeting including the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Syria started on Wednesday and will continue to Thursday. The Russian Special Envoy to West Asia and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ali Asghsr Haji, Director General of Policy Planning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Burak Akcapar, and Syrian Deputy Minister Ayman Suzan attended the meeting.
In a speech, Bogdanov announced the purpose of the meeting of the four countries to make the preparations for the meeting of the foreign ministers of these countries. In recent months, several meetings were held between the heads of the intelligence agencies of Turkey and Syria, and then, the defense ministers of the two countries talked in January in Moscow, with the results of negotiations described positive. In these meetings, the Syrian crisis, refugees, and joint efforts to fight all terrorist organizations in Syria were discussed. They also discussed a meeting of foreign ministers of the two countries, showing that important steps have been taken.
The Moscow meeting is held as the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is present in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Turkey’s Cumhuriyat newspaper cited Nikolay Surkov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council and a Senior Researcher for the Center of the Middle East Studies at the Moscow-based Middle East Studies Center, as saying that the leaders of Russia and Syria will discuss the necessary steps in the process of normalizing relations between Damascus and Ankara with the mediation of Russia, though the newspaper claimed that al-Assad’s visit to Moscow focuses on humanitarian issues and bilateral relations, especially the recent earthquake in the north of his country. Although the Russian and Syrian authorities have not confirmed or denied the authenticity of this news report, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to invite al-Assad to the upcoming meetings in Moscow.
First Iranian presence
These meetings were held bilaterally and trilaterally in the past few months, but this time Iran has joined them. Iran joins these meetings as Erdogan last month asked Moscow to invite Tehran, too. And then Damascus officials announced their willingness to see Iran a participant in the upcoming meetings. Iran’s presence in the Moscow meeting comes as Iran’s Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, during his recent trip to Syria and Turkey, met and discussed with the senior officials of these countries, showing that Tehran’s diplomatic efforts to implement the normalization agreement have been stepped up.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Naser Kanani commented on the Turkish-Syrian relations and the Iranian role in their mending, saying: “Syria’s relations with its neighbors are of interest to Iran, and improving these relations is one of Tehran’s priorities, and increasing cooperation between Syria and the countries of the region, including Turkey, will help achieve peace in the region.”
Tehran and Moscow are trying to help in this regard and pave the way for the normalization of relations between the two neighboring countries, because in the current situation where the tensions between Russia and the West have intensified, bringing Turkey to the Eastern camp can end the Syrian crisis. In the past decade, Iran has played an influential and significant role in the developments in Syria, and Western countries have repeatedly admitted that they cannot end the Syrian crisis without Iran’s help, and Turkey is also aware of this issue and finds presence of the representatives of the Islamic Republic in the meetings useful, helping a lot in undoing the knots of political dialogue. Iran is one of the guarantor countries of the Astana peace process and has held many negotiations with Russian and Turkish officials in the past years, and participation in the détente meetings also shows the strong position of Tehran in the internal developments of Syria.
The massive Turkish moves for rapprochement with Syria come as after eruption of Syrian crisis in 2011, Ankara backed terrorist groups and cut off diplomatic relations with Syria in line with the anti-Syrian policy of Western-Arab front. Over all these years, Turkey fueled Syrian conflict by opening its borders with Syria for foreign terrorists and for arms smuggling. However, after defeat of Takfiri terrorist groups, Turkey, having failed to reach its goal of toppling al-Assad, changed its stances and in a U-turn, it announced its will to mend ties with Syrian government.
Ankara’s aspiration for Erdogan-Assad meeting
Though Turkish-Syrian intelligence and security officials met earlier, all their meetings target one goal: Arranging an Erdogan-Assad meeting after 12 years of tensions. Though Erdogan has repeatedly asked the Russian officials to persuade the Syrian leader to end the diplomatic hiatus as soon as possible, the Syrian side has not shown a green light yet. Damascus officials see Turkey as one of the main causes of devastating crisis and plight in their country and actually do not trust the new Turkish approach. Erdogan tries to conclude the détente case with Syria and raise its chance for victory in the presidential elections. But al-Assad and other Syrian officials have not forgotten the suffering during their war against terrorism and do not want to quickly grant Ankara privileges, and holding Moscow meeting at the level of deputy foreign ministers is expressive of the fact that Damascus currently has no plan for a meeting of senior officials.
The Syrian government has set conditions for normalization, which, if implemented by Ankara, will persuade it to make its final decision on normalization. The most important of them are the withdrawal of Turkish military forces from the northern regions and the cessation of support for terrorists. Due to the fact that parts of Syria are under the military occupation of Turkey and the forces under its command, without the end of the occupation, relations between them will not return to normal. Syrian officials have also said that mere words are not enough and the Turks should prove that in deeds.
In the past years, Turkey tried to change the demography of the Syrian areas with its military occupation of parts of the north and establish its lifelong presence by separating it from the central government of Syria, a destructive action that Damascus will not tolerate in any way, and until it receives guarantees related to the withdrawal of Turkish military forces, it will not sign the document of normalization of relations, and Ankara understands this very well.
Turkey claims that its military presence in Syria’s north is for fighting the terrorist groups of PKK and YPG. But all these are excuses unacceptable to the Syrian officials. Indeed, a large part of the security threats Turkey talks about stem from the occupational policies of the US that has brought under its protection umbrella the Kurdish forces since 2014 and fueled conflicts by arming and equipping them. If such terrorist threats are to be removed, it should happen with help of the Syrian government, not occupation.
On the other hand, if Ankara’s support for the terrorists in Syrian province of Idlib, the last stronghold of Turkish-backed terrorists, decreases, the way will be paved for the destruction of these groups in the future, and Erdogan must show his goodwill in this regard, because friendship with Damascus is in contradiction with supporting the terrorists and Damascus does not approve of it.
Damascus’s strictness concerning a détente and its distrust in the Turkish government looks logical given Erdogan’s experience of warmongering in the past 12 years. That is why Ankara is resorting to Moscow and Tehran for help.
In addition to security and diplomatic issues which are a top priority, the Syrian-Turkish officials also emphasized return of the Syrian refugees as an important issue in their bilateral meetings. Currently, about 3.7 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey, and Erdogan is trying to close the case of refugees and their return home quickly. He needs the help of Damascus as Turkey has been dealing with a massive economic crisis in recent years, and after the recent earthquake, the country’s problems have doubled. Therefore, continuing to host Syrian refugees is beyond the capability of the Turkish government, and the normalization agreement can much help Ankara.
Iran’s entry to Syrian developments meeting will contribute to Syria-Turkey détente, and if Erdogan’s government approves the Syrian conditions, resumption of ties before Turkish elections in May is not unlikely.