Alwaght- On Wednesday, Moscow hosted the first four-party foreign ministerial summit gathering together Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Iran’s Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, Turkey Mevlüt Cavusoglu, and Syria’s Faisal Mekdad attended the meeting to integrate the agreements reached in past meetings and find a solution to end the differences between Turkey and Syria. This meeting is a sequel to similar meetings and if successful, it can, to a large extent, pave the way for Turkish-Syrian détente.
The Syrian FM commented on the negotiations in the meeting, saying that the Syrian delegation insists that Turkey should end its occupation of Syrian territory, end support to terrorism, and stop its interference in the country’s home affairs.
On the other side, Cavusoglu sounded upbeat about the dialogue, saying that the goals of the summit revolved around reaching lasting peace and stability in Syria, cooperating in fighting YPG and PKK terrorist groups, and also making sure about return of Syrian refugees in Turkey to their country.
Prior to this, quadrilateral meetings among the deputy foreign ministers and the defense ministers were held in Moscow in which all the members called for the continuation of such talks to contribute to stability in Syria. They also talked about practical measures to strengthen the security of Syria, to the normalization of Syria’s relations with Turkey, and to dealing with terrorism and fighting extremism in Syria. According to the officials of the four countries, these meetings have been positive and constructive, and probably the results of the previous meetings could come to fruition in the foreign ministers’ meeting.
The goal of all these measures is to normalize Turkish-Syrian relations, a process started from last year.
The two sides have set conditions to this aim and if they finally agree, a rapprochement can normalize their relations after 12 years of tensions.
An important issue that currently matters to Ankara is the Syrian refugees who have been living in Turkey for years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to return 3.5 million Syrian refugees to their country after normalization. Given the difficult economic situation in Turkey, the presence of this large population puts a lot of costs on Ankara’s shoulders, so they are trying to determine the case as soon as possible. Erdogan, who is gearing up for the presidential election next week, has worked hard in recent months to settle the refugees case, knowing that his rivals will zoom in on the case to boost their chances of victory by making the president look weak.
Erdogan pledged that if he wins, he will return the Syrian refugees to their country to get rid of the pressures of rivals. This is why it is trying to turn Moscow meeting into a winning card and show that Turkey is just one step from settling the refugees case. Although no tangible results have been achieved regarding the refugee case, Erdogan hopes that with the mediation of Russia, he will be able to secure a point from Syria that will be effective in changing the course of elections in his favor. Actually, holding the four-party meeting in Moscow on the eve of the elections was purposeful and aimed at making a prelude to future meeting of Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after 12 years.
Turkey also has concerns about Kurdish groups in Syria’s north and is seeking guarantees from Damascus government to eliminate threats posed by armed groups there.
“If Turkey withdraws from northern regions, Syrian government should fight the moderate opposition, armed militias, and various other groups that are all backed by the United States to enter these regions,” FM Cavusoglu said.
Also, Turkey is closely watching the Arab countries’ moves for normalization with Syria and does not want to fall behind rejuvenated economic partnership with Damascus. The war has destructed many of Syria’s infrastructure and with the period of calm, there are many opportunities of foreign investment in which Turkey wants to have an active engagement. That is why Ankara is rushing to mend ties with the southern neighbor.
Turkey’s extensive moves for Syria normalization come as after the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Ankara, aligned with the Arab-Western front, cut off its relations with Damascus, and fueled the war by providing arms to terrorist militias and opening its borders with Syria for movement of terrorist fighters. But with the defeat of the Takfiri groups, Turkey, frustrated to achieve its goals, reviewed its stance and in an about-face expressed its will to normalize ties with Syria.
Syrian officials have repeatedly asserted that Turkey is one of the main reasons behind their country’s crisis, fueling the devastating conflict by backing an array of terrorist groups. This is why they have set preconditions to test Ankara’s seriousness in rapprochement. The key issue for Damascus is security and it wants Turkey to pull out of northern regions and hand over their control to the Syrian army. The Syrians see foreign occupation a violation of their national sovereignty, and as long as Ankara does not make concessions in this case, it is unlikely Damascus agrees to normalization as it insists on its demands.
Turkey claims that the presence of its military forces in northern Syria is aimed at confronting Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Defense Units (YPG), but the Syrian authorities consider such claims as illegitimate excuses for occupation.
Though Turkey insists it is serious about détente, it continues to back Idlib-based terrorist groups and this poses a serious obstacle to success of the reconciliation with Damascus. To show their good will, the Turks in recent weeks talked about anti-terror operations killing ISIS ringleaders in Syria. Still, Syrian leaders insist Turkey should totally stop its supports to terrorists to settle Idlib case as the last unsettled case in Syrian security crisis. It is certain that if Ankara quits its support to terrorists, the way will be paved for Syrian army to liberate Idlib. Ankara can show a good will in this case to persuade Syrian leaders for normalization.
Iran’s key role
Over the past 12 years, it has been proven to all that Iran is one of the influential powers in Syria developments and it is impossible to be pushed out the Syrian case. Although Iranian representatives were absent in the three-party Russian-Turkish-Syrian negotiations, as much as the talks moved forward, a need for Iran’s presence was felt more and more. Iran is one of the guarantors of Astana peace process and engaged in extensive talks with Russia and Turkey, and its participation in the normalization talks demonstrates its powerful position in Syrian domestic developments. Turkish government, on the other hand, has realized Iran’s constructive role in Syrian conflict and called on the Russians to invite Tehran to the negotiations. Iran has always been an advocate of Syria peace and, indeed, welcomes normalization of once-hostile countries with Syria.
Iran’s FM commented on Iran’s constructive role in Syrian refugees, saying that Iran’s dynamic and multidimensional diplomacy initiative can help complete convergence process and draw prospects for end of fundamental challenges in the whole region. Iran’s presence in Syria-related meetings can facilitate Turkey-Syria normalization, and should Erdogan give necessary guarantee for accepting and implementing Syria preconditions, mending ties between the two countries in the near future is not unreachable.
At present, détente with Syria is a matter of life and death for Erdogan and he hopes to gain political privileges in the four-party talks to use them as a wining card to get a position boost over his rivals and win the elections for the third time in a row.