The Astana Meeting and the Need to Take a Realistic Approach

2021/11/20 | interview, political, top news

Strategic Council Online—Interview: An analyst of West Asian affairs said that the Tehran summit and the Idlib issue would be two important agendas for the Astana summit, adding that if countries move to revive relations with Syria and with the return of Syria to the Arab world, economic and political pressures are reduced, political realities and the realities on the ground will force the occupiers of Syria to admit realities.

Mostafa Najafi told the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations that it seems that the main topic of this meeting, which is being held at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers, is to review the agenda of the Tehran meeting, the mechanisms and the actors present in it.

Referring to the remarks of Kazakhstan foreign minister regarding the next round of Astana format meeting in the capital of Kazakhstan, Najafi said the Astana meeting is likely to discuss the dispute in Idlib.

“This is because in the past month, there have been several airstrikes by the Russians against the positions of armed groups in Idlib, which have been in conflict with Turkish interests and policies, and the Turks are dissatisfied with this,” he said, adding that so far 16 rounds of Syria talks have been held within the Astana format.

He said the Turks gained a lot of influence in Idlib because their hands were left open in the area; But it seems that the decision of Iran, Russia, as well as the Syrian government, is to bring the Idlib affair to an end.

“However, the failure to resolve the Idlib issue will hamper the political process of resolving the Syrian crisis. Therefore, the discussion of the Tehran summit and the issues of Idlib are the two important agendas of the Astana summit”.

Najafi said Lebanon and several other countries were present as observers in the previous Astana meeting, adding that “it is possible that countries such as the UAE, Jordan and even Egypt will attend the next meeting, and if we do not see their presence at this meeting, they may attend the Tehran meeting. If these countries attend the Tehran meeting, there will be a good opening in the political process of the Syrian crisis; Because then it is the first time that such a group is consulting on resolving the Syrian political crisis.”

 

The need for a realistic approach by the parties in Astana meeting  

Emphasizing the necessity of adopting a realistic approach by all parties in the Astana format, he said the primary and dominant approach at the Astana meetings was to prevent conflict in tense areas, so that Iran, Turkey, and Russia could control differences and tensions at the heart of the crisis in Syria, especially in the north.

“Realizing the realities on the ground, the three actors began negotiations in Astana in 2018. The three countries then expanded the talks to political issues, such as forming a constitutional committee or inviting Syria opposition and other actors as observer members”.

Najafi said despite their best efforts, the three countries did not reach the ultimate goal of resolving the Syrian crisis in the political arena. In the meantime, the Turks tried to maintain the status quo so that the crisis center in Idlib and northern Syria would remain under their control and influence.

“In fact, for the past two or three years, the Turks have sought to maintain the status quo in northern Syria in their favor and not allow change to take place. Whenever tensions arose and other actors sought to retake Idlib, the Turks called for political meetings to maintain the status quo in political bargaining.”

He added that “but the reality is that the Astana talks cannot help substantially resolve the crisis until the Idlib issue is resolved and the Turks reduce their interventionist tendencies in northern Syria”.

 

Necessity of stopping Turkey’s intervention

Najafi said the Turks must be realistic about their intervention in northern Syria, and if they do not want to accept the fact that Idlib is not their playground and sphere of influence, Russia and the Syrian army will move to retake Idlib by military action and expel the Turks from that area; This is an issue that could escalate tensions and seriously disrupt the Astana format.

The West Asian affairs expert expressed hope that the Astana meeting could be the basis for the Tehran meeting so that the two sides could reach the right political decision to resolve the Syrian crisis.

He added that if players such as the UAE, Jordan and Egypt move to revive their relations with Syria, and the return of Syria to the Arab League, economic and political pressures are reduced, political conditions and realities on the ground would force the Turks to accept the realities.

Najafi said that these developments are a time-consuming process, and we cannot expect all the issues regarding Syria to be resolved in the next few months. As in the last two or three years, despite all the meetings that have been held, we have not witnessed a significant political development in Syria.

 

Syria’s readiness for regional and international mouvement

Referring to the visit by the UAE foreign minister to Syria and the signing of the first cooperation agreement between the two countries in 10 years for the establishment of a power plant in Wadi al-Rabi near Damascus, he said such development suggests that Syria is exiting regional and international isolation.

Najafi explained that UAE Foreign Minister’s visit to Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s telephone conversation with the UAE Crown Prince and the resumption of relations with Jordan and Egypt, as well as the gas pipeline that is to be built from Egypt to Lebanon through Syria, and even the US reduction of pressure on Syria suggest that Syria is slowly reviving itself in the Arab world and the region. If Syria returns to the Arab world and the region as an effective player, the Turks will have no choice but to look at the Syrian issue realistically.

He said “it seems that in the Tehran meeting, the main issue of Idlib will be the effort to convey the existing realities to the Turks so that the Turks will abandon the policy of maintaining the status quo in northern Syria.”

Referring to the threat of Turkish military operations in northern Syria and some military movements in the region, he said “it is possible that the Turks in order to increase their bargaining power in Astana negotiations with such rhetoric, conduct limited military action in the form of drone and artillery strikes to strengthen their position in northern Syria and Idlib, and increase their bargaining power in the political process. The Turks usually increase their military threats in Syria before each meeting.

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