The foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Russia today held a trilateral meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, to discuss the Syrian conflict. In a statement after the meeting, the three sides stressed that they will work together to seek a political settlement to end the seven-year war and protect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Separately, an Iranian military delegation headed by Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad Ahadi visiting Ankara met with high-ranking Turkish military officials, the Iranian media reported. In a meeting with Turkey’s Deputy Chief of Staff General Umit Dundar, the two sides discussed ways to further boost bilateral defense ties and cooperate more closely on regional security and political issues. They also stressed that the need for protecting territorial integrity of regional countries. The Iranian defense minister also met with his Turkish counterpart Suay Alpay as well as heads of Turkish military industries. Ahadi also submitted a letter from Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami inviting his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli to visit Tehran in the near future.
Comment: Iran and Turkey have been supporting opposing sides in the Syrian civil war. Recently, however, the two non-Arab Middle Eastern powers, with Russian mediation, have taken steps to narrow their differences in Syria and accommodate each other’s interests and concerns to a certain extent.
The main concern for Ankara appears to be the presence of the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) close to its border with Syria. Having failed to convince Washington to halt its support for the Kurdish forces in Syria, Ankara has sought to cooperate more with Russia and Iran to address its concerns in Syria and has launched a military invasion of the Kurdish-held Afrin region in northwestern Syria. While YPG is a main US ally in the fight against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, the Turkish government considers it a terrorist organization and an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a violent insurgency against Turkey over the past three decades.
Tehran, Ankara and Moscow are the guarantors of a trilateral mechanism that is ostensibly aimed at de-escalating violence in Syria. But despite the de-escalation agreements, violence by pro-Assad forces in Syria continues unabated. As foreign ministers of the three guarantor states were talking about de-escalation and negotiated settlement to end the war, pro-Damascus forces were continuing their air and ground offensives in the besieged Eastern Ghouta, where scores of civilians have been killed by pro-regime forces in recent days. In the meantime, thousands of civilians were fleeing Afrin.
The presidents of the three countries are set to meet for a trilateral summit in Turkey on April 4, and the next high-level international meeting on Syria is scheduled to take place in Astana in mid-May.
Furthermore, Iran and Turkey have also taken steps to bolster bilateral defense and trade ties. Last August, the Chief of Staff of the Iran Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri paid a historic visit to Turkey.
However, while relations between Iran and Turkey have improved recently, divergent interests of the two countries in the region and a long history of distrust are likely to continue to prevent the latest marriage of convenience from turning into a strategic relationship.