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Reflections on the Sochi summit

Reflections on the Sochi summit

At the Sochi summit, Erdoğan, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, reiterated their commitment to work together in finding a solution to the Syrian conflict.

I was part of the press corps that covered President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's trip to Sochi in Russia. At the Sochi summit, Erdoğan, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, reiterated their commitment to work together in finding a solution to the Syrian conflict. The leaders issued a 17-point final communique to take stock of their activities vis-à-vis U.N. Security Council resolution 2254. They also discussed the inclusion of additional countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, in the Astana process. Finally, the three presidents agreed to take concrete steps against the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib, to select six new members of a constitutional committee to preserve Syria's territorial integrity and to resist efforts to create a fait accompli situation on the ground behind the smokescreen of counterterrorism operations. Article 4 of the final communique, which refers to separatist activities intended to undermine the national security of Syria's neighbors, was obviously about the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG). Even though Russia does not oppose the proposed safe zone, it wants Bashar Assad's recognition in return. Erdoğan, meanwhile, is paying close attention to the Adana agreement that Putin and Rouhani kept bringing up.
From the Turkish perspective, implementing the treaty does not necessarily mean a recognition of the Assad regime. It merely creates an opportunity to chase terrorists on Syrian soil without limitations on distance and depth. In other words, the Turks interpret the Adana agreement in a way that strengthens their safe zone's legitimacy.
Another item on agenda during Erdoğan's meeting with the press corps was the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from the Russian Federation. The Turkish president announced that Russia was going to deliver the equipment by July and mentioned a phone call with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who forwarded U.S. President Donald Trump's request for the cancellation of the deal to the Turkish leadership. For Erdoğan, changing his mind is not an option. Quite the contrary, he believes that purchasing the S-400 is an independent decision that Turkey has already made. Both the July 2019 delivery date and Trump's most recent request indicate that the S-400 debate will possibly heat up in coming days. The Turks remember that some U.S. officials talked about economic sanctions in the past. Yet Washington must face the fact that Turkey won't backtrack on that front. Straining the bilateral relationship, which could not fully recover despite the proposed safe zone, would not help either side.
Meanwhile, the Warsaw Summit made headlines thanks to a video that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office leaked to the press. The video purports to show Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, identifying Iran as the most dangerous challenge facing the Middle East. Responding to the Iranian threat, he added, was more important than the Palestinian cause. That statement hints that the Gulf might throw its weight behind Netanyahu's potential war against Iran. Statements by Bahraini, Saudi and Emirati officials are significant because they view Iranian expansionism, not Israeli occupation, as the greatest threat against regional stability. They are open to working with Israel (and abandoning the Palestinians and Jerusalem) in order to neutralize that threat. This is much bigger than a change of policy in the Gulf. It amounts to a strategic break in the Middle East's geopolitical architecture. The choice that the Gulf states make today will compel them to stomach Israeli moves for decades. By leaking the video, Netanyahu did not only reveal how comfortable his country's position was he also showed the world how authoritarian Arab leaders, who settled for a dishonorable defeat in the fight for Palestine and Jerusalem, were undermining their own legitimacy. [Daily Sabah, 17 February 2019]