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The importance of the Arab role in making the Astana Conference a success

Syrian people take part in a demonstration demanding opposition groups to come together in same roof Aleppo, Syria on December 30, 2016 [Anadolu]]
Syrian people take part in a demonstration demanding opposition groups to come together in same roof Aleppo, Syria on December 30, 2016 [Anadolu]]

During the Cold War, Turkey was on the frontlines of NATO an a stalwart ally of the West against the Soviet Union, while on the other hand the Arab countries were not strongly aligned to either side. However, since then the international environment has changes drastically and Turkey has tried to pursue it's a more independent foreign policy and, as a result, it has been more cautious in supporting America's role in the region.

This division with the US is especially obvious in the context of the apparent conflict between the US and Islam – as espoused by Samuel Huntington in his 'Clash of Civilizations' – and was evident during the American-led war on Iraq in invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Moreover, in the more recent campaign against Daesh, the Turkish government initially refused to participate in the military operations against the terrorist group until the US presented its plan to the NATO an consulted with Ankara on the best way to proceed. However, America rejected this and instead complained about the Turkish government actions rather than admitting to its own mistakes.

Given the failure to defeat Daesh over two years of fighting in Iraq and Syria, it is reasonable to wonder if the campaign was ever truly sincere in its efforts and it seems that the US has ever fully come to grips with its role in creating an environment conducive to the growth of radicalism in the Middle East.

It is as if Daesh has become a tool for the American strategy and not just an enemy. Or perhaps Daesh it has become an enemy whose elimination is deferred until broader American strategic goals are achieved in Iraq and Syria.

These broader goals might be dividing Iraq and Syria, as evidenced by the fact that America used and empowered Kurdish forces who are bent on dividing Iraq and Syria, and possibly Turkey, Iran or other Arab countries later on.

As the world is not limited to America and the five Security Council countries, the countries of the world being harmed by the American strategy have the right to look for protection for themselves and to confront the plans aiming to divide it or cause civil wars in them, even if in the future.

The Arab countries attempts to distance themselves from the dangers of sectarian regional war led by Iran, will not – however – grant them security or protection nor will it guarantee its stability by fiat. The entire world is aware of the dangers of the Iranian and Russian interference in Syria.

German specialists in Middle Eastern and Arab world affairs addressed the truce agreement signed by the armed Syrian opposition and Bashar Al-Assad's forces under Russian and Turkish auspices. They also discussed the difficulty of achieving such an agreement and Iran's sabotage of the agreement. They also noted that the escalated conflict between Iran and Russia regarding supporting Bashar Al-Assad is inevitable.

These experts include the head of the Middle Eastern department at Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance, Udo Steinbach, who emphasised the escalation of the conflict between Iran and Russia.

It is important to pay attention to his explanation of this conflict, this is that Russia does not want, and cannot continue to, slip into the Syrian quagmire, and that their role in the war is based on the fact that supporting Bashar Al-Assad is a grim necessity for their own strategic goals.

Russia also believes that the new American president's abolition of the Iranian nuclear deal will force Tehran to move away from its support of Assad. Thereby making Russian's role even more critical.

Steinbach concluded that starting negotiations for a permanent political solution for the Syrian conflict "is based on Moscow's success in reigning in Al-Assad and forcing him to adhere to the ceasefire."

In his opinion, "Al-Assad's insistence on continuing his strategy and his pursuit of moving his control from Damascus to the rest of Syria means the continuation of the war". Russia and Iran must agree on curbing Al-Assad in order for the Russian efforts in the Astana conference to succeed.

The German expert, Rainer Heinrich, a specialist in Middle East affairs for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, ruled out the success of the Russian-Turkish agreement in achieving sustainable peace in Syria, despite the cease-fire. He explained that this agreement reflects an understanding between the two parties, for the following reasons:

  1. The agreement does not express the concerns of local, regional, and international actors.
  1. Turkey sought this agreement with Russia after realising, early on, that Moscow controlling a larger area in the Syrian arena after Trump's inauguration will limit its influence in this arena.
  1. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not be able, under any circumstances, during the Astana conference to receive the Syrian opposition's approval for any solution in which Assad plays a role.
  1. Russia's considerations for looking for a solution to the Syrian crisis are different to that of Iran, "which considered Syria as a base for its Shiite crescent project, while Moscow is interested in preserving the Syrian regime and will abandon Al-Assad if they find an alternative," according to Heinrich.

These four reasons reveal an accurate reading of the talks occurring now, before Astana. Turkey is not a part of the solution, but rather a guarantor for the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian opposition in Astana is the focus of the negotiations and agreement, and Turkey's role, before guaranteeing the agreement reached by the opposition, is to provide political support to the opposition in order for it to be a real, strong, and direct party in the negotiations for an international solution, either in Astana, Geneva, or anywhere else.

This requires all of the Arab and Gulf states to act as serious political supporters of the Syrian opposition's delegation in Astana. This involves proving the opposition with political and moral strength it can rely on against another project that will exhaust its political and military capabilities in order to resolve the conflict in its favour.

The Iranians constantly complain about Turkey's role, along with Russia, in reaching a solution and openly show their fear of their inability to harness Russia in their favour in the event that Astana is a success. It is in the best interest of the Syrian people to find the Arab countries standing by them, first to strengthen them, and secondly to weaken the Iranian role compared to Russia and the world.

The international observation of the situation is not limited to the German experts, as there is a need to find a solution after five years of massacres in which Iran killed more than 1 million Syrians and displaced more than 10 million Syrians to surrounding countries as well as countries across the world.

They also destroyed all the Syrian cities. After all of this, an end must be put to the Iranian occupation and we must not lose hope in the Russian efforts, despite the fact that it joined the Iranian militias in their crimes. This is valid as long as Russia tries to save itself from the Iranian quagmire in Syria and if Russia seeks alternatives to the sectarian war, which Russia has no part in, in order to achieve this.

This last opinion is shared by Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger. He believes "Russia has involved itself in Syria and put itself in an unenviable position and a problem that will exhaust it." He explained that the Sunni majority in Syria and the Arab world rejects Al-Assad and Russia's presentation of itself as the protector of "this dictator".

Ischinger also believes that "the ceasefire achieved by Russia in Syria is a tactical success for Moscow's foreign policy and will not enable it to impose peace in the turbulent Arab country and its surroundings."

This opinion is not shared by everyone, as the agreement can be successful for the same reasons mentioned by the German foreign ministry and the foreign committee in the German Bundestag: that is, first, to refuse any role for Al-Assad in Syria's future, and, second, to consider anyone who is the head of the Syrian regime as "merely a tool for Russia and Iran and not an effective player in its country's crisis".

Thirdly, observers believe that the reason for this is the great influence possessed by the Russians and the Turks over the Syrian and regional parties in the conflict is that there is an emerging international consensus that the crisis must end rapidly.

However, the most important reasons is that Iran failed miserably in finding a stable sectarian nation in the Arab world, as the Arab and Muslim nations view any state whose country's identity is linked to Iran as a sectarian state doomed to die before birth.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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