Tehran joins the “reconciliation” path between Ankara, Damascus

Press conference in Damascus of the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, and Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, 14 January 2023 (SANA)

Press conference in Damascus of the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, and Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, 14 January 2023 (SANA)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

The announcement on 31 January by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, of an agreement to include Iran in the “settlement” process between Turkey and the Syrian regime, constituted another entry of Tehran into the rapprochement process between Ankara and Damascus, following statements by Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the 29th of the same month.

At the time, Erdogan called for further meetings between his country, Russia, the Syrian regime, and Iran aimed at achieving stability in northern Syria.

“Let Turkey, Russia, Syria, and possibly Iran as well come together and let us hold our meetings along these lines so that stability can prevail in the region,” he added.

In conjunction with Lavrov’s statements, the Turkish presidential Spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said that Iran’s presence in the Russia-brokered negotiations with Syria would be beneficial.

Resultful activity

Despite opening the talk about a political Turkish-Syrian rapprochement around mid-2022, Tehran had for weeks missed the Russian-sponsored talks in this regard, most notably the meeting of the defense ministers of Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian regime held in Moscow on 28 December 2022.

Iranian entry on the rapprochement line is the culmination of Iranian political efforts and diplomatic activity, which was clearly demonstrated by two visits by Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein-Amir Abdollahian, to Damascus and Ankara in less than a week.

On 17 January last, Abdollahian visited Ankara and met with the Turkish President. During a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, he expressed his country’s gratitude for the changing course of relations between Ankara and the Syrian regime following the Turkish side’s confirmation that Iran had been briefed on the details of the meetings with the Syrian regime.

In parallel to the Turkish-Iranian meeting in Ankara, Tehran sent a message in the words of its senior advisor to its Foreign Minister, Ali Asghar Khaji, who confirmed that the Syrian issue could not be easily resolved without Iran’s presence.

At the time, he said that his country’s participation in all issues related to the “Syrian crisis” would continue with full force in the future.

Before Ankara, Abdollahian visited Damascus on 14 January last and met with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, who made separate statements in the same vein that the regime had lifted its terms for negotiation. Al-Assad stressed that the Syrian state would move forward in its dialogue with the Turkish side only if the objective was to end the occupation and cease the support of “terrorist organizations.”

Mekdad also stressed during a press conference with his Iranian counterpart that any political encounters must be based on respect for Syrian sovereignty and the army’s presence as a genuine guarantor of its territorial integrity.

After a Wall Street Journal report that spoke of Iran doubling the price of crude oil it sells to the Syrian regime, and despite timid denials quoted by the local al-Watan newspaper through an unnamed source, a report published by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in its Persian version on 31 January, quoted the Iranian political analyst, Rahim Farzam, as saying that Iran had recently resorted to the method of oil, significantly increasing its export price to Syria in protest against it being kept out of the negotiations.

Irani presence, A greater momentum

The researcher in international relations, Mahmoud Alloush, explained to Enab Baladi that Iran’s accession to the rapprochement talks between Turkey and the Syrian regime and the tendency towards a quadripartite platform with Russian presence would add greater momentum to the process of dialogue between the two sides because Iran is a key player in this matter and an influential party to the regime, as is Russia. This means that Iran’s engagement in this mechanism would contribute to ensuring that the circumstances surrounding the negotiating process are appropriate to advance it.

The dialogue between Ankara and Damascus is greater than the process of reforming relations between the two parties, said Alloush. Rather, it is a project for a new settlement put forward by Russia, which makes the quadruple platform an upgraded version of the Astana process, with a different function in both cases; The quadripartite platform is intended to facilitate the diplomatic process between Turkey and the Syrian regime, while Astana’s efforts have been to arrange ceasefire agreements, without eliminating the overlap between the objectives of the two platforms.

There are several factors that determine the Syrian regime’s position in the talks after having previously raised the negotiating terms. There is Russian pressure on the regime not to put “impossible” conditions in order to advance the process of settlement or reconciliation with Turkey. Conversely, there is pressure that Tehran can exert on the regime to maintain its position on negotiations further, making the regime’s flexibility in talks linked to its ability to balance Russian and Iranian pressure.

The process addresses not only the reform of relations but also the future of Syria, the opposition, and Turkey’s military presence in Syria. The parties’ lack of consensus on the outline would place significant obstacles in the way of the talks.

Mahmoud Alloush – Researcher in international relations

According to the researcher, the new political process is not without obstacles, but talks under this mechanism may bring about a shift in the Syrian situation.

Since the tripartite meeting between the Ministers of Defense in late 2022, there has been constant speculation about when the Ministers of Foreign Affairs will meet with the same parties, without a clear official date confirmed by the parties concerned.

After al-Assad and Mekdad’s “demanding” statements in mid-January, Turkey responded through the Presidential Spokesperson by hinting again at the Turkish ground military operation in the Syrian territories.

During his meeting with a group of foreign media representatives to explain Turkey’s view on the international agenda after Ankara and Damascus entered the process of normalizing political relations, Ibrahim Kalin said that another meeting would be held between the defense ministers of the two sides before the meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey and Syria.

This step was justified by researcher Mahmoud Alloush that the conditions for developing the level of meetings between Turkey and the Syrian regime have not yet matured. On 2 February, Turkey’s Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, announced that tripartite meetings between Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian regime would continue in the coming days at the “technical delegations” level.

Meetings at the technical level are an attempt to find possible arrangements for any future agreement leading to the reform of Turkey’s relations with the regime, particularly in security matters, which makes talk of development in negotiations unlikely unless an agreed approach is reached on the future of this process between the two sides. Iran’s involvement drives the course of negotiation, of which Moscow and Ankara are aware.

Regarding Iran’s absence from the Turkish Defense Minister’s statements regarding technical meetings, Alloush considered this an indication of Turkey’s desire to give Tehran a political role in the process. If a meeting of foreign ministers or a presidential meeting is agreed upon, Iran could participate without the need for Iranian participation in technical matters relating to the dialogue between Turkey and the Syrian regime.

During the past few days, aspirations to reach a meeting of foreign ministers in the foreseeable future declined, influenced by the Turkish foreign minister’s meeting with his US counterpart on 18 January, despite the absence of talk of a rapprochement in the joint ministerial statement of the two sides. That is in addition to the Syrian regime’s conditions that emerged after silence and talk of defense ministers meeting once again, which means returning to the starting point.



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