Three men meet in the East
Three regional powers meet today in the city of Tabriz, Iran. Russia, Iran and Turkey have different visions for Syria but all three face US sanctions.
The three countries have ongoing military operations in Syria and the summit could determine the fate of Syria and the end game for the last rebel-held city of Idlib, home to 3 million people. It is reported that the military build-up for the Idlib offensive has caused congestion of shipping lanes and flight corridors around Cyprus.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will host the meeting, an indication that Iran desires to secure favourable conditions in any impending Syrian settlement and aims to preserve gains on the ground.
Ankara is looking to protect the Sunnis who have opposed Asad since the beginning of the conflict in 2011 and are now located in the area surrounding Idlib. ''Idlib isn’t just important for Syria’s future, it is of importance for our national security and for the future of the region,’’ Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Putin reiterated that Assad should be in control of all of Syria but Turkey disagreed. “We should think together over all aspects of this complicated issue’’ Putin said. “We should solve this issue together and realize that the legitimate Syrian government has the right and eventually should be able to regain control of all of its territory”.
Ankara fears that an offensive would drive masses of refugees towards the Turkish border. Cyprus too has experienced a significant influx of Syrian refugees who arrive on the island by boat from the Turkish coast. The attack on Idlib could also unsettle the Turkish military deployments inside Syria established by the Euphrates Shield operation.
Turkey and Iran support opposing sides in the Syrian conflict. However Tehran reached out to Erdogan and offered support in the aftermath of the 2016 coup. The choppy relations between US and Turkey following the coup and the recent US sanctions against Turkish officials have created more room for Iran and Turkey to cooperate on regional security and economic affairs.
“The fires of war and bloodshed in Syria are reaching their end,” Rouhani said, adding that terrorism must “be uprooted in Syria, particularly in Idlib” while calling for an end to US influence in Syria.
Iran’s oil exports are expected to drop significantly as a result of US sanctions. Both Russia and Turkey will then be existential economic and energy partners for Iran. Putin’s Russia has reportedly been in talks over increased Russian investments in the Iranian energy sector to compensate for European companies that have left the Iranian market in compliance with US sanctions. Turkish banks can play a role by providing Iran with financial networks and Tehran would like to increase its oil exports to Turkey.
300 Kilometers West
On the same day, in Nicosia, situated only 300 Km west of Idlib, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian held meetings with his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides. French oil and natural gas major Total is active in Cyprus’s waters and an exploratory drilling is scheduled for the end of the year. Exxon Mobill is scheduled to begin drilling in October.
At the end of next week Christodoulides will join Greek FM Kotzias as they visit Israel, setting up alliances and putting in the preparatory work necessary in order to make the future south-west Mediterranean energy corridor to Europe a reality. Yesterday the Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu announced that Turkey will also begin natural gas exploration in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone wihin two months, setting Turkey on another collision course with the West .
A cease fire would be good
Late on Friday the Washington Post reported that a series of airstrikes struck villages in southwest Idlib. Reacting to Erdogan’s proposal for a cease-fire, Putin said “a cease-fire would be good” but indicated that Moscow does not think it will hold.