Turkey-Russia-Iran Ankara summit focuses on Syria war without delivering lasting outcome

Source: Xinhua| 2019-09-18 00:16:34|Editor: huaxia
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pose for a group photo after their summit in Ankara, Turkey, on Sept. 16, 2019. (Xinhua/Mustafa Kaya)

The latest Turkey-Russia-Iran summit once again failed to produce a breakthrough in ending the Syrian war, because the interests and ambitions of the three regional powers are often at odds with each other, experts said.

ANKARA, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- At a new three-way summit Monday in Ankara, Turkey, Russia and Iran focused on ways of ending the war in Syria, without providing any game-changer to the lingering crisis, exposing their differences on sensitive issues, analysts told Xinhua.

As expected, the spotlight of the summit was mainly on the last rebel-held province of Idlib in northwestern Syria, where raging battles have forced hundreds of thousands to flee and threaten to end a faltering truce.

A de-escalation zone established a year ago to end the clashes between the Syrian army and the rebels in Idlib did not work, as Turkey failed to block the rebels from attacking Russian and Syrian army positions.

However, no lasting outcome has been announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, leaders of the Astana guarantor countries who met in this trilateral meeting for the fifth time since 2017, in an effort to end Syria's war.

The three leaders expressed preoccupation about the situation in Idlib and stressed the need for new measures to be implemented there, but no real concrete steps were announced.

The presidents reiterated their "firm intention to continue seeking the political means of settlement" of the conflict that has plagued Syria since 2011.

"There was no breakthrough in this summit, and since 2017, the three parties have only managed to provide limited outcome for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis," said Serkan Demirtas, an analyst and journalist.

Demirtas remarked that there are no grounds for a fundamental agreement as interests and ambitions of the three regional powers are at odds with each other regarding the Syrian conflict.

"The only concrete outcome of this summit is the fact that they have managed to get in tune regarding the composition of the contentious constitutional committee," he added.

The three leaders said they agreed to form a committee tasked with rewriting Syria's constitution as part of a political solution to the country's civil war, now in its ninth year.

Russia and Iran are key allies of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey backs the Syrian opposition factions seeking to oust him.

Kerim Has, an expert and lecturer at the Moscow University, said that Turkey would have to reconsider its current policies regarding the Idlib province and its hostility to any contact with Damascus.

"Ankara wants to stop Syrian government's offensive in Idlib to prevent further flows of refugees towards Turkey, while Assad's aim is to re-conquer the areas controlled by rebels," he pointed out, arguing that it would prove very difficult for Ankara to restore its "bruised prestige in Idlib without making new concessions towards Russia."

"Russia is pursuing its policy to force Ankara, whose soldiers are besieged by the Syrian army (in Idlib), to establish a direct dialogue and cooperation with Damascus," Has insisted.

Assad has vowed to re-seize all parts of the country but Ankara wants to keep its influence within Syria to secure a role in any post-war negotiations.

This analyst predicted that some of the 12 observations posts, established by Turkey in Idlib within the de-escalation process agreed by Ankara, Moscow and Teheran, could soon be evacuated as Ankara's rebel proxies are in disarray in this region.

Ankara would have to withdraw its troops from the observation posts following the summit, Has argued, who also considers a safe withdrawal of the troops and a possible reinforcement of other posts in rebel-controlled parts of Idlib would be a "face-saving" measure for Ankara in the coming weeks.

"It is very possible that the Syrian forces, supported by Russia, will continue to advance in rebel-held pockets. The situation could force extremist rebel groups such as the Tahrir al-Sham to advance towards areas near the Turkish border," Has added.

Turkey lobbied meanwhile during the summit for the creation of a zone of control within Syria to contain a new wave of refugees, in order to prevent any mass arrivals of refugees in the country which already hosts 3.6 million Syrians amid a rising anti-refugee sentiment.

The role of the United States, which is excluded from the Astana format but controls much of eastern Syria with the help of Kurdish partners, is another complicating factor. Russia is keen to push the U.S. out of Syria and loosen Ankara's already frayed ties with the West.

"Turkey is under the pressure of both Russia and the U.S. in Syria and has to play a skillful balancing act if it wants to preserve its ambitions there," said Togrul Ismayil, a scholar from the Kahramanmaras University.

"Russia needs Turkey in Syria, but Moscow also wants to provoke a crack in NATO" by pushing Ankara and Washington in a deadlock on the question of the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units that Turkey considers as a terrorist threat, Ismayil noted.

Erdogan warned after the Ankara summit that if the U.S. were to continue to play delaying tactics to establish a safe zone in east of the Euphrates, his country would take unilateral action in "two weeks."