The Tehran Summit and beyond

The Tehran Summit and beyond

This week, the world’s eyes were on the Tehran Summit. Speaking of the “world” is not an exaggeration, because the summit dealt with issues that war prone to cause not only regional but global effects. And it also presented an according model of cooperation.

The reunion between Türkiye, Russia and Iran by itself is an incident capable of changing global balances. Western press reported on the summit using the headline “Gathering of the Despots”, reflecting clearly this fear in the words of the Atlantic.

That fear is justified. The Astana partners have long proven that, if they take the initiative and exclude foreign interventions and influences, there is no problem they cannot solve. The Tehran Summit once again has confirmed that and refreshed the Astana Process.

The Ankara-Moscow-Tehran axis actually bears a potential far beyond the decisions and the joint resolution of the summit. Let us discuss the most important ones in the context of the summit’s results.

Joint decision: The United States will be expelled from Syria

On course, the agenda of the summit is headed by Syria. Most importantly, all three sides in the summit stated their consensus to expel the United States from Syria. On that way, they have clearly identified and expressed the root of the problem in this country.

Similarly, the three countries have a consensus on how the problem should be solved: Achieving Syria’s territorial integrity.

And the three leaders have also agreed on how to achieve that goal: Definitive elimination of all terror organizations that are supported by the United States. This includes both the separatist organizations, such as the PKK/PYD as well as the reactionary and fanatic organizations such as ISIS.

Common stance against separatist and reactionary-fanatic terror

The critical point here is the following: It is necessary to address these terror organizations the same way. One of them should not be considered as the lesser evil, it’s actions not overlooked or its forces supported in any way. The province of Idlib and the East of the Euphrates should be considered as one single front line. Every organization that damages Syria’s territorial integrity harms all the partners in the Astana Process to the same degree. All these organizations are instruments of the United States, and they support each other. Last May, Yevgeniy Prigoshin, a Russian businessman close to Putin and known as the owner of Wagner, had drawn the attention to the connections between PKK/PYD and ISIS in Syria.

In consequence, the Astana trio must in the shortest term get in motion to eliminate all these terror organizations in accordance with the goal they have agreed upon.

The Turkish Armed Forces’ operation is necessary

At this point, the issue of Turkish Armed Forces’ exterritorial operations comes to mind. Iran has expressed openly its rejection of the operation. Russia on the other side essentially does not oppose it. Moscow even had sent affirming signals before. But they follow a different tactics: To frighten the PKK/PYD with a Turkish military operation and force them to hand over the territories to Damascus’ control without bloodshed.

But the final elimination of the PKK/PYD forces will not be possible without the use of arms. Diplomatic negotiations and bargaining can only force the adversary to retreat somewhat. Therefore, the role and operation of the Turkish Armed Forces cannot be ignored in this process. And this role has also critical importance concerning the expelling of US forces from Syria. In short, it is not possible to achieve Syria’s territorial integrity fully without the Turkish Armed Forces.

The operation needs to take place in cooperation with Damascus

But at that point, the Turkish government bears an important responsibility, one that it has to fulfill since years but it does not get to. All steps of Ankara in Syria need to be taken not only in coordination but also in cooperation with Damascus. This will ensure that the steps taken will be more efficient, lessen the weight Türkiye carries and guarantee that Syria’s sovereignty is not violated.

At the same time, such cooperation is also necessary to answer Iran’s objections and some of the doubts that Russia carries. The praxis in Idlib and statements of Turkish government representatives, including President Erdoğan lead the Astana partners to ask themselves, whether “Türkiye wants to establish its own order and create autonomous regions in the areas it has entered?”

This process cannot carry that contradiction

Ankara says, together with its Astana partners, that the US must leave Syria and supports the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, condemns Israeli attacks on Syria, rejects unilateral sanctions against the country and their selective lifting in favor of the PKK/PYD. Türkiye furthermore protests against the robbing of Syrian oil by the US and the PKK/PYD. But when it comes to establishing relations with Damascus, Ankara says “No, can not happen”.

This process cannot carry that contradiction anymore. This contradiction impedes the progress of the Astana Process, stalls it and leads it to become obsolete. That task of establishing relations with Damascus has be done without any “maybes” or “buts”. Especially after the decided stance of the Tehran Summit.

Who is the partner to achieve the goal?

Let us ask the questions: How will you expel the United States from Syria? How will you crush down the PKK/PYD? How will you deal with the Salafist terror organizations? In short, how will you achieve Syria’s territorial integrity? There is the path of logic and experience! Can all the above-mentioned goals be achieved in cooperation with the Assad government, or by confronting the partners in the Astana Process with the so-called opposition to Assad?

Recently I spoke with a journalist who has been in the area for years and who has an strong oppositional stance to the Assad government. He told me in detail that the oppositional, so-called Syrian National Army had turned into a group of gangs, that it would never establish a state-like discipline, that it even made desire Assad’s system of justice, because these gangs had started to ambush houses, hijack people and so on. When the so-called Syrian National Army does not even get the acceptance of those who oppose Assad, how will it establish an order in the whole of Syria!

Let us see how you control entire Syria with these elements, achieve territorial integrity and provide an order! And this endeavor in chasing Russia and Iran! I very much would like to see how these elements force the United States out of Syria. Is that possible? No! All you can do with these elements is to control a certain territory, and this even is only possible with the support of the Turkish Armed Forces. But what about “the territorial integrity of Syria”, then? And what about your relations with the partners in the Astana Process?

Intentions and discourses need to be same

It is very obvious! Türkiye’s and the region’s peace and interests do not lie in that policy, but in eliminating the terror organizations and expelling the United States from Syria in cooperation with Damascus and coordination with the Astana partners. Should the opposite path be followed, the terror organizations will not be eliminated and the US will reinforce its presence in Syria. Therefore, intentions and discourses must be the same.

The “revival of the Astana Process” at the end imposes that policy.

The decision belongs to the Syrian people

In that context, together with the goal of territorial integrity, the emphasis on that only the Syrian people will decide on the future of Syria is important. The partners in the Astana Process must contribute to achieving the territorial integrity. But no force other than the people of Syria has the right to decide on the government, to change it or supplement it. Neither should Türkiye reject Syria’s legitimate government, nor should Moscow prepare a draft constitution for Syria in Moscow. This principle is at least as important as the other issues.

The correct address concerning the refugee problem

Besides of these issues, the Tehran Summit also displayed the correct address to deal with the refugee problem. The leaders’ statements on that matter should be noted. This problem has become a serious challenge for Türkiye and other countries in the region, and it can only be solved within achieving Syria’s territorial integrity. In other words, the cooperation of Türkiye, Russia, Iran and Syria. Naturally, the US presence in Syria as the main cause of the problem is within the scope of the cooperation.

The same model as in the South Caucasus

The Ankara-Moscow-Tehran axis is leading not only in the Astana Process but also in the 3+3 Platform in the South Caucasus. The Astana members constitute the first three countries in this platform, Azerbaijan Armenia and Georgia on the other side constitute the other three.  (Although Georgia has not accepted being part of this platform the door is still open for diffuse.)

The three leaders also bear great responsibilities capable to determine the future of the world in that context. Great opportunities have appeared for the South Caucasus especially after Azerbaijan’s recent war of liberation. Beyond establishing the peace in the region, important steps are being taken for the economic and logistic integration of the region.

Just as in the Astana Process, the South Caucasus has also witnessed the elimination of Western intervention, embodied in the Minsk Group, with the regional initiative becoming dominant. This has been the determining factor in solving the region’s problems. After the Tehran Summit, it is now important to ensure the process’ continuity and take decided steps that will ensure the region’s economic, cultural and social development, starting from the Zangezur Corridor and reaching to other projects.

At that point, it is especially important that Iran takes a more constructive part in the process.

The summit’s tasks for the Eastern Mediterranean

The Tehran Summit gains a different importance with the warming up of the waters in the Eastern Mediterranean. Türkiye can only balance the Atlantic forces on that front with the help of Eurasian powers. Russia is especially important, if one bears in mind that in the US strategy, the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean are one single frontline.

In the recent days, two books belonging to Fethullah Gülen, leader of the Gülenist terror organization FETÖ, were found in the hands of forces captured while fighting for Ukraine. Similarly, a British mercenary, captured in the Donetsk region while fighting side by side the Neo-Nazi regiments, stated that weapons delivered to Ukraine were being sent to the PKK. These incidents do not occur as coincidence.

They show the integrity in the US strategy. You can disrupt the Atlantic’s plans if you also have a integrated strategy. And that integrated strategy includes the disruption of US plans in the Black Sea and the Ukraine crisis as well.

The Astana Summit is especially important in that context for the strategic potential it bears.

The Moscow-Ankara cooperation in the Ukrainian grain

Additionally, in a time when the world is discussing and beginning to live the food crisis, the agreement to send Ukrainian grain to the world by a Turkish-Russian cooperation is another aspect that made the Tehran Summit valuable.

Türkiye’s mediation role

Following the summit, Türkiye’s mediating role between Kyiv and Moscow – regularly sabotaged by the US – will regain dynamics if the US interference on Ukraine is broken.  

Sanctions, the struggle against the Dollar hegemony and energy security

The Tehran Summit also needs to be interpreted as a meeting against the US’ attempts to use economic relations as a weapon. Washington’s unilateral sanctions have already targeted all three countries in the Astana Process. Besides, all three countries are suffering from the reign of the US dollar.

Against the sanctions, the cooperation in the Ankara-Moscow-Tehran axis offers the perspectives to accelerate trade in national currencies and to ensure Türkiye’s energy security in a cheap way.

The political will to govern Türkiye

All these facts deem the Tehran Summit a historic meeting. But the summit’s true importance and meaning derives from the opportunities and tasks it has placed in front of us. The realization of these opportunities and the fulfilling of these tasks depend on the political will. That political will is going to be able to govern Türkiye insofar as it takes the chance. Or to put it differently: Only those who have that political will are going to govern Türkiye.

Mehmet Perinçek
Historian and political scientist (Turkey)

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March 2024