Despite no progress in hot files, “Moscow Quartet” paves way for foreign ministers meeting
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
The meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime took place in the Russian capital, Moscow, on April 4, as part of active Russian efforts led by Moscow to bring its two rival allies closer together.
The statements that followed the meeting did not break expectations in light of the existence of pivotal contentious files between Ankara and Damascus.
These statements were reinforced by the Syrian regime’s adherence to a high ceiling of conditions that are not in line with Turkey’s aspirations from the rapprochement path, which did not produce any public understandings, at least until now, with the exception of continuing the dialogue, in conjunction with the approaching date of the Turkish presidential elections on May 14.
The regime’s position was evident in the words of the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister, Ayman Sousan, who stipulated during the quadripartite meeting that Turkey would officially and unequivocally announce that it would withdraw its forces from all Syrian territory, and start the actual withdrawal, as “an entrance to re-establish communication between the two sides.”
Sousan stressed that restoring the situation in northeastern and northwestern Syria to what it was, requires conditions to be achieved by preserving Syria’s sovereignty and unity, the withdrawal of “illegal” forces, the fight against terrorism, and the restoration of “state authority” over all its lands.
Turkish media pointed out that the meetings included discussing the framework of political relations and security issues and preparing for the ministerial meeting.
However, Sousan said, “We have not seen any positive indications regarding the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syria, or the fight against and elimination of terrorism in the northwest, especially in the Idlib region, and the re-establishment of state authority over this region. Indeed, Turkey has not committed to the understanding within the framework of the Astana process or with the Russian side,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the upcoming meeting of foreign ministers will put on its agenda the issue of negotiations between the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, according to what was reported by the Russian TASS agency.
The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry came as a push for the Quartet meeting and the bilateral talks that preceded it between the participating delegations, which recycled their statements regarding their vision of the rapprochement path by focusing on the need to advance the talks and uphold the unity and sovereignty of Syria.
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, also pointed out on April 7 that the meeting was preliminary and of great importance, in which they discussed setting a date for the meeting of the ministers and defining new files for the joint agenda.
At the same time, Lavrov indicated that the meetings with a strategic and intelligence dimension in this context and the meeting of deputy foreign ministers until the present time are considered a success, according to his opinion.
Mahmoud Alloush, a researcher in International relations, referred to a state of “partial flexibility” shown by the regime in the negotiations by agreeing to participate in the meeting before obtaining guarantees from Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syria, in addition to the success of the pressure exerted by Moscow on Damascus to abandon the preconditions and accept the principle that obtaining such guarantees can come as a result of the negotiation process, and not as preconditions.
Al-Assad launched an attack on Turkey and its political leadership during his visit to Moscow in mid-March.
A verbal attack came in conjunction with the failure of the meeting of the deputy foreign ministers, which was scheduled for the 16th of the same month.
Al-Assad also talked about the need to withdraw the “illegal” foreign forces from Syria, referring to the American and Turkish forces, given that there are no other “illegal” forces, according to his opinion.
Al-Assad continued, “We did not set conditions… raising the issue of withdrawal is a constant and will not change. It is a national issue, not a political one.”
Researcher Alloush told Enab Baladi that the importance of the quadripartite meeting lies in its transfer of the Turkish-Syrian dialogue to a new, more productive stage while paving the way for diplomacy between the four parties to round corners in order to reach a common ground that defines the parameters of any possible settlement between the two parties.
Regarding the possibility of maneuvering within the time space available for the rapprochement path before the Turkish elections, Alloush ruled out that a major development would occur on the track within the aforementioned period, with the exception of the possibility of developing meetings to the level of foreign ministers or holding a new meeting at the level of defense and intelligence ministers.
In an interview with Russia Today, on his fifth visit to Moscow since the start of the Syrian revolution, al-Assad linked any development in relations with Ankara to the Turkish elections, considering that “the only earthquake that changes Turkish policies and pushes for rapprochement now is the presidential elections in Turkey.”
Alloush believes that the main file that will be on the table if the foreign ministers meet is how to reach a settlement whereby Turkey agrees to set a timetable for withdrawal from Syria in return for addressing its security concerns and the refugee issue.
Here, the Adana Agreement concluded in 1998 emerges as a good ground for negotiations regarding the future of the Turkish military presence in Syria, according to the researcher in International relations.
Damascus’ agreement to amend the Adana Agreement in accordance with the Turkish vision could encourage Ankara to agree to set a timetable for the withdrawal of its forces, and ensuring the safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees will help Erdogan to address the issue of refugees that is pressing him internally.
Mahmoud Alloush, Expert in International Relations
The statements of the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers during a joint press conference in Ankara on April 7 indicate a state of diplomatic activity aimed at agreeing to push for ongoing meetings at the quadripartite level.
Cavusoglu praised the transparent presentation of the delegations participating in the meeting of the deputy foreign ministers, pointing out that it is not possible to eliminate all differences of opinion during one meeting.
The Turkish Foreign Minister also stressed the need to continue intensive dialogue, talks, and political consultations, explaining that the announcement of the date of the ministerial meeting will take place after Russia sets the date following consultations according to specific schedules.
In the same context, Lavrov stressed the need to achieve a balance, given that each country has its own interests and demands that must be considered.
The researcher on Turkish affairs, Taha Odeh Oglu, explained that the meeting of the deputy foreign ministers did not achieve any major breakthrough regarding the normalization process between Ankara and Damascus.
“What Moscow is currently counting on is continuity, which prompted the Russian foreign minister to visit Ankara at this time,” he added.
Odeh Oglu pointed out that Turkey is not interested in the regime’s statements related to the withdrawal from the Syrian lands, which is offset by walking cautiously on the track for fear of disturbing the peace of the talks ahead of the elections, which could be a negative indicator for Ankara at this stage, the researcher stresses.
In the same context, Odeh Oglu indicated the possibility of intensifying meetings in the next stage at the ministerial level and holding more than one meeting to talk and discuss files of interest to both sides.
Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, told the NTV channel last week that there is intention to include foreign ministers, defense ministers, and intelligence chiefs in the meeting that will be held in the coming days, stressing the need for the Syrian side to be “more constructive” in order to push operation without preconditions.
“We are at the beginning of the process, given the depth and complexity of the problems,” Kalin said.
For his part, researcher Odeh Oglu indicated that the occurrence of a meeting of this kind, if it took place, is an indication of the existence of outstanding files, especially in the security aspect, between the two countries, which are Turkish messages to Moscow, that Ankara is doing everything it can to make the track a success in order to throw a ball of bumps, problems and obstacles into the regime’s goal.
Normalization with the Syrian regime will not provide much for Turkey. What really matters is the issue of security, borders, and the refugee file, which are pressure chips that the Turkish government extracted from its opponents.
Taha Odeh Oglu, Researcher in Turkish Affairs
Despite the Turkish talk of a “constructive atmosphere” after the meeting of the defense ministers of Turkey, Russia, and the regime, on December 28, 2022, Ankara hinted again, in mid-January, of a ground military operation in Syria.
The threat of a military operation came in conjunction with statements that came out of Damascus by al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and poured into one context.
Al-Assad affirmed that the Syrian state will not move forward in its dialogue with the Turkish side unless the goal is to end the occupation and stop supporting “terrorist organizations,” according to what was reported by al-Watan newspaper at the time.
All of these facts were accompanied by an official Iranian entry into the talks on January 31, which was followed by an escalation in the regime’s rhetoric and its adherence to the same conditions before moving to Moscow without at least any public Turkish concession.
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