Hedging on US Withdrawal? – Turkey, Russia, Iran Vow To Speed Up Efforts For ‘Calm’ In War-Torn Syria
(PKONWEB) — The presidents of Iran, Turkey and Russia met on Wednesday in Ankara for their second tripartite summit in under six months, aiming to speed the peace process for Syria– despite some conflicting interests, the meeting could bear significant results as countries seek to bolster their influence in embattled country if US withdraws.
The three powers have backed peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana which they argue are a parallel process to support UN-supported discussions in Geneva.
On March 26 the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran met in Astana to lay the ground for the summit. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the common efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran had been considerable, considering the tense situation in areas such as Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, al-Foua, Kefraya, Raqqa, Idlib and Hama.
The leaders said after their April 4 meeting that a third summit will be held in Tehran at a date that is yet to be announced.
Experts say that Ankara, Moscow and Tehran have quite different interests but have for now decided to team up to take advantage of the waning Western influence in Syria.
Hours before the summit, US President Donald Trump said he wanted to “bring our troops back home” from Syria after indicating last week the US would withdraw from the country “very soon.”
A senior U.S. administration official on April 4 said Trump has agreed to keep U.S. troops in Syria “a little longer” but does not want a long-term commitment.
The official said Trump wants to ensure Islamic State is defeated and called on other nations in the region to help provide stability in Syria.
“We’re not going to immediately withdraw, but neither is the president willing to back a long-term commitment,” the official said.
Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, on April 4 said the White House will announce its troop decision on Syria “relatively soon.’’
He told reporters that senior national security leaders met on April 3 and that “some decisions were made,” without being specific.
Jana Jabbour, professor of political science at Sciences Po university in Paris, told the AFP news agency that the aim of the summit was to “reorganize and renegotiate the zones of influence in Syria as well as to reflect on the future of Syria’s north after US withdrawal.”
Jabbour said that Moscow and Tehran would give free rein to Ankara against the YPG in exchange for bringing the Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups to the negotiating table.
Elizabeth Teoman of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said that “Erdogan likely wants to use the summit to secure Russian and Iranian support for expanded operations in northern Syria or Iraq.”
While Moscow and Tehran support the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad politically and militarily, Turkey has repeatedly called for his removal and supported Syrian opposition fighters seeking Assad’s ouster.
More than 340,000 people have been killed since the war began following anti-government protests in 2011, while millions have been internally displaced or forced to flee.
Turkey hosts over 3.5 million Syrian refugees and Ankara is keen to avoid a further influx ahead of 2019 elections and also wants to install some refugees in safe zones inside Syria.