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Ilya Tsukanov
Ilya Tsukanov
Ilya Tsukanov is a Moscow-based correspondent specializing in Eastern European, US and Middle Eastern politics, Cold War history, energy security and military affairs. Member of the Sputnik team since the site's inception in 2014.

Baby Steps Toward Peace: What to expect from Russia-Iran-Syria-Turkiye meeting

Syria War news

The past two months have witnessed dramatic changes in the Middle East’s security architecture, with February’s devastating earthquakes sparking an outpouring of diplomatic and humanitarian support for war-torn Syria and giving rise to hopes that the US-led 12-year-old dirty war against the country may finally be reaching its end.

The deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Syria, Iran and Turkiye are preparing to hold quadripartite talks in Moscow this week. The negotiations, expected to stretch out over two days, will be the first direct talks between Syrian and Turkish officials since December, when Moscow hosted the two countries’ defense and intelligence ministers – the first of their kind in more than a decade, to explore a possible normalization of ties.

Syrian media reported Sunday that Assistant Foreign Minister Dr. Ayman Sousan would be leading the Syrian delegation. Sousan told reporters that he and his Russian and Iranian colleagues would hold bilateral consultations on Monday, and that a quadripartite meeting with Turkiye would take place on Tuesday. Damascus’ focus, he said, will be negotiating the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syrian territory, joint efforts to combat terrorism, and non-interference in Syria’s internal affairs.

Officials in Ankara confirmed last week that Turkiye would take part in the negotiations, with an anonymous senior official saying the talks would constitute “a continuation of the ministerial-level meetings that began during the normalization process.” No “significant decisions” are expected, according to the official, given that there will be “no ministerial-level participation” at these particular negotiations.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian confirmed Iranian participation in the talks during a press conference alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week, and said the “rapprochement of the views of Turkiye and Syria” will be their focus.

“Tehran and Moscow will also make efforts to bring these views closer together. And if some framework is determined at these negotiations, the next meeting can be held at the level of foreign ministers,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

Iran joined the Russian-led diplomatic normalization process in January, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying it was “absolutely logical” for Tehran to take part, since Moscow, Tehran and Ankara are all members of the Astana Process on Syrian peace.

Regional Realignment

Russia, which enjoys friendly relations with both Syria and Turkiye, has spent months seeking to bring Damascus and Ankara closer to normalization after more than a decade of mutual animosity.

“We believe that the differences between Damascus and Ankara can be overcome, and will continue to assist the parties in finding mutually acceptable solutions in the interest of normalizing interstate relations between them and restoring traditional Syrian-Turkish good neighborliness,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Sputnik back in February.

The diplomat expressed confidence that Turkish forces in Syria – the key bone of contention between Damascus and Ankara, can be resolved, since the Turkish side has reaffirmed at the highest levels “its commitment to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.” This position is “recorded in a number of Russian-Turkish documents and joint statements of the Astana Troika,” Bogdanov pointed out.

Russia’s commitment to restoring Syrian-Turkish ties was spelled out in a new foreign policy concept last week. The document, signed into law by President Putin on Friday, formally outlines Moscow’s commitment to “reconciling differences relations” between Syria and its neighbors, and in “helping resolve and overcome consequences of armed conflicts” in the Middle East in general.

Russia, the policy says, will focus, going forward, on “developing the full-scale cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran, providing comprehensive support for the Syrian Arab Republic, and deepening the multifaceted mutually beneficial partnerships” with Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Organization of Islamic Cooperation members.

The restoration of Syrian-Turkish ties is key to this equation. When the CIA-led dirty war in Syria began in the early 2010s, Turkiye and other countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel joined the attempt to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, facilitating the flow of Islamist militants into the country, and the export of oil, ancient artifacts and other wealth out of it. Russia’s intervention in the conflict in 2015 helped slow these flows to a trickle, and Turkiye subsequently shifted gears to supporting rebels in Idlib province, and carrying out multiple military operations in Syria against Daesh (ISIS)* and US-backed Syrian Kurdish militants with suspected ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – which Ankara designates as a terrorist group.

Turkiye and its allies currently control about 10 percent of Syria’s territory, and Damascus has repeatedly demanded their withdrawal (a demand Syrian authorities have also applied to US and Israeli forces). Emphasizing the significance of the issue to Damascus, President Assad said last month that he would not agree to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until Ankara agreed to end its occupation.

“This is linked to arriving at a stage where Turkiye would clearly be ready and without any ambiguity to exit completely from Syrian territory and end its support of terrorism and restore the situation that prevailed before the start of the war on Syria,” Assad told a Sputnik reporter in mid-March after a meeting with President Putin.

Wake Up Call for Washington

Last month, China brokered a landmark normalization of relations agreement between long-time regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the US left sidelined from the negotiations and meeting the news with sour grapes.

Meanwhile, Saudi and Syrian officials recently told US media that the two countries were nearing a Russia-brokered normalization of ties agreement. Syrian and Egyptian officials are also in “advanced discussions” on the full restoration of diplomatic relations, with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad traveling to Cairo for talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, on Saturday.

In February and March, President Assad traveled to Oman and the United Arab Emirates – which became the first Gulf nations to take steps to restore ties with Damascus in 2019 and 2020, respectively, to discuss ways to boost ties and facilitate Syria’s return to the Arab League.

The normalization of Syrian-Turkish ties, as a key component of Syria’s triumphant diplomatic ‘return’ to the region, could prove a devastating blow to US power, demonstrating that Washington’s dirty war tactics, and longstanding attempts to sanction Damascus into submission, are no longer a convincing argument to regional powers – even those with a long-standing tradition of close links to Washington. It will also prove a boon to President Assad, demonstrating his ability to withstand a dirty war against his country by some of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on Earth and live to tell about it.

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