By Ahmad Rafat
The 4th trilateral Syrian peace conference held by Iran, Russia, and Turkey on February 14 in the Black Sea resort of Sochi produced no concrete results. Presidents Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyab Erdogan, and Hassan Rouhani did not agree on a ceasefire in the rebel-held Idlib province.
Although the peace summit ended with a statement that highlighted the need “to drive all terrorist elements out of Idlib,” the three leaders could not agree on who should be on that list and which forces must control the city after they have forced Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Levant Liberation Committee) out of the northern province.
Turkey opposes Russia and Iran’s proposal that Assad’s forces should control Idlib after Hayat Tahrir al-Sham forces have left the region. Mr. Rouhani has also said that the Turkish military should pull out of Syria because Ankara and Damascus do not have diplomatic relations.
Iran considers all forces that oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as terrorists. Turkey, however, regards only the Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (People’s Defense Unit), as a terrorist group. Russia is negotiating with some opposition forces in Syria, and, therefore, it is not clear which one it considers as a terrorist group.
Turkey has, undoubtedly, been a crucial player in the Sochi peace talks. However, Iran and Russia released a statement at the end of the summit arguing that their military forces, which are in Syria at the invitation of President Bashar al-Assad, are the only two foreign forces that have the legitimate right to be present in that country.
Meanwhile, a summit held in Warsaw, Poland on February 13 and 14 titled “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” resulted in uniting 63 countries against the Islamic Republic. Many political observers believe the timing of the two events was not coincidental. The organizers of the summit did not invite the Islamic Republic to Warsaw.
“Iran’s presence would have hampered talks because the language that Tehran uses is hard to accept,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said. “We unequivocally condemn the offensive actions of Iran beyond its territory, including Europe.”
Although Erdogan, Putin, and Rouhani have hailed the planned U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, many Arab countries and some European governments at the Warsaw conference sharply criticized the decision.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today Show in December, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “President Trump makes a specialty out of talking in black and white terms about what is happening in the world. We have made massive progress in the war against Daesh but it is not over, and, although they have lost nearly all the territory they held, they still hold some territory, and there are still some real risks. So we have to continue to be vigilant; we do not believe we can be complacent in the situation we are in.”
In recent days, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which comprise Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian/Syriac militias, have killed and captured many ISIS fighters in the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria. The French Government has warned that the coalition forces havenot, however, entirely wiped out ISIS in Syria, and there is a strong possibility that after the U.S. military withdrawal, the militant group will recapture territories it had lost last year. Turkey will probably take advantage of the U.S. military pullout and attack territories under the SDF’s control in northern Syria.
France and Britain argue that the West would lose credibility in the region if Turkey were to attack SDF, which is the principal ally of the U.S. and Europe in their fight against ISIS. As a result, no country in the region would completely trust the U.S. or Europe in the battle against Islamic extremism.
A European diplomat at the Warsaw summit told Kayhan Life: “The U.S. military withdrawal from Syria would only strengthen the Islamic Republic’s influence in that country. It would cast doubt on America’s overall strategy against the clerics in Iran. We cannot call the IRGC-QF [the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force] and [its commander] Ghasem Soleimani as the archenemy and yet enable the Islamic Republic to expand its sphere of influence in Syria.”
At a joint news conference on February 14 with the U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said: “I may not have expected this before, but the states of the region were unanimous in saying that Iran is the destabilizing factor in the region. If we want to concentrate on problems and not states, it does not prevent us from noting the threats as they stand.”
Secretary Pompeo used the opportunity to highlight the consensus among the participants in the Warsaw summit on the need to thwart Iran’s regional ambitions. He said: “There was not a defender of Iran in the room. No country, no country spoke out and denied any of the basic facts we all had laid out about Iran–the threat it poses, the nature of the regime. It was unanimous. Countries from Europe, countries from Asia, countries worldwide–no one spoke up saying that the data set about the threat that Iran poses in the Middle East is wrong or over-hyped.”
The Warsaw summit aimed to address the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine and find ways to end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. However, it soon became clear that the primary objective of the conference was to strengthen global efforts against the Islamic Republic. Domestic media and some Farsi-language news outlets outside Iran have tried to downplay the significance of the Warsaw summit by pointing out the absence of many countries at the event including Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. However, the presence of Oman and a few other countries at the summit which have in the past maintained close ties with Iran and even tried to mediate talks between Washington and Tehran is further proof of the global isolation of the Islamic republic.
In his opening statement at the Warsaw summit, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said: “President Trump kept his word when he withdrew the United States of America from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action did not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. It merely delayed the day when that vile regime would gain access to the world’s deadliest weapons.”
Mr. Pence added: “We must not let this opportunity slip from our hands. In June 2009, after the Iranian regime stole an election to maintain its grip on power, the previous administration refused to raise its voice when the Iranian people took to the streets in what came to be known as the ‘Green Movement.’ It was not until Congress acted that the United States declared its support for the Iranian people. The world missed an opportunity last time to confront the regime, but not this time. This time, all of us must stand firm.”
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]