A fresh framework for Syrian peace is in the process of articulation. Following an unusually discrete and extended discussion of roughly four hours, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan, addressed the press insinuating to a potential normalization of relations between Turkey and Syria.
In conjunction with his Turkish associate during a joint press appearance, Minister Amirabdollahian commented on the discussions with Damascus and Ankara. Utilizing Iran’s advantageous relationships with both countries and within the context of the quadrilateral meeting, he emphasized their relentless efforts to alleviate the apprehensions of their Turkish neighbors while consistently preserving the territorial sovereignty of Syria. Minister Amirabdollahian further stated, “I noticed Fidan’s constructive suggestions concerning the common frontier, counter-terrorism efforts, and the imperative repatriation of Syrian refugees.”
Minister Fidan, reflecting on the matter, expressed, “In pertaining to the Syrian circumstance, we have deliberated on possible profounder involvements. Our expectations from Syria are well-defined, the secure repatriation of Syrian citizens is foremost. In counteracting terrorism and the PKK, we anticipate enhanced collaboration, and increased co-participation from the Syrian government, needs that I am convinced are also in Syria’s interests.”
The immediate visit to Tehran by Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan succeeding Hossein Amirabdollahian’s return from Syria, incited speculations that Iran might be functioning as an interlocutor between Syria and Turkey. Initially, conjectures rose from the Syrian official declarations at the meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, with the press conference of the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey further bolstering these postulations.
The diplomatic endeavors toward normalizing Syrian and Turkish relations initiated two years prior, yet a strategic plan circumventing primary inhibitors has remained elusive. Primarily, as of date, Russia held a pivotal role in coordinating meetings between Syrian and Turkish officials. The latest multilateral negotiations were hosted in Moscow under the four-way talks comprised of Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey this May. Recently, commentary from Russian special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, acknowledged the existence of lingering issues impeding the normalization of relations between Turkey and Syria. Following Lavrentiev’s statement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asserted on Friday, September 1, that Russia’s commitment to fostering diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria is unwavering.
In deciding to recommence ties with Ankara, Damascus signals political, economic, and security interests. Frequent statements from Syrian officials imply Damascus’s intent to reconstruct relations with Ankara. However, the key precondition from the Syrian side for normalizing relations is the retraction of Turkish forces from Syrian terrain. During a joint press briefing with his Iranian counterpart, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad stated, “The solitary stipulation for Turkey-Syria relations is the removal of Turkish troops from Syria; Following which, cooperation can be resumed on the condition that occupation ceases,” a sentiment echoed by Syrian President Bashar Assad in his conversation with Iran’s foreign minister.
Simultaneously, four integral facets constitute the contentious dialogue between Syria and Turkey: “the termination of military occupation in northern Syria,”, “the halt of Ankara’s support to the Syrian opposition,” “the repatriation of refugees,” and “the future of the Syrian political system.”
The complexities of Ankara’s political and geopolitical requisites
Turkey has maintained its occupation over a significant expanse of northern Syria since 2016. The deterioration of Russo-Turkish relations in 2015, promptly succeeded by their restoration in June 2016, culminated in Turkey’s monumental “Euphrates Shield” operation in northern Aleppo, targeting the Kurds in addition to ISIS. Turkey’s offensives against northern Syrian regions drew international criticism from Washington due to their affiliations with the Syrian Kurds, eliciting strain on Tehran-Ankara relations. Comparatively, Russia’s stance toward Turkish operations in Syria exhibited less transparency than that of the US and Iran. Nonetheless, Russia pursued containment of Turkish advancements into Syrian territory via bilateral consultations with Ankara. These discussions propagated the establishing of the quadrilateral coalition of Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey. Over the past seven years, these consultations’ primary emphasis has been to coordinate the groundwork for Turkey’s withdrawal from Syria, a goal yet unrealized.
Given the political and military advantages Turkey holds in these dialogues, it posits conditions pertaining to Syria’s political future in response to Damascus’s prerequisite of Turkish troop withdrawal. Ankara’s military presence in Syria, though, has imposed considerable political and security expenses for Turkey. The domestic security repercussions of the Syrian crisis have induced Ankara to seek resolution. However, in normalizing relations with Syria, Turkey appears to persist in demanding formidable political and geopolitical concessions not readily resolved. Consequently, in negotiations with Syria, Ankara demonstrates a preference for discussing territorial withdrawal, shaping relations’ political facade, and agreeing on refugee repatriation, which could manifest as a significant political victory for Erdogan.
Iran’s impetus for mediation
A dozen years subsequent to the onset of the Syrian warfare in 2011, the spotlight has been firmly affixed on Syria, owing to a pair of compelling issues. The first revolves around burgeoning diplomatic endeavors centered in the historically rich city of Damascus, augmented by the mounting urgency to normalize Syrian diplomatic affairs with its international counterparts. Conversely, telling indicators suggest a newly formulated stratagem by the United States and Israel, seemingly poised to rekindle the flames of war within Syrian borders.
Nonetheless, sourced from the perspective of observers, the budding and subsequent firming up of ties between Syria and surrounding regional powers promises to lend greater transparency to the Syrian landscape. Moreover, it could function as a bulwark against the looming specter of a freshly ignited war.
Simultaneously, movements toward normalizing rapport between Syria and the trifecta of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Arab League have fortified Syria’s standing in its normalization dialogues with Turkey. However, the murky waters of Ankara’s political and geopolitical aspirations have stoked anxieties, fostering apprehensions regarding a potentially stalled progression of Syrian-Turkish relations.
Given the protracted and intertwined relations between Russia and Turkey, Iran’s initiative to facilitate discussions between Damascus and Ankara builds on their established policy. Anchored in the past decade of unwavering Syrian support and diligent upkeep of channels of communication between Damascus and Ankara, Iran’s mediation could constructively influence the dynamics between Syria and Turkey. A wealth of evidence substantiates the potential efficacy of Iran’s mediating role.