The Sochi agreement, Washington’s response

The Sochi summit was a historic step toward a political solution in post-Daesh Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed …

The Sochi summit was a historic step toward a political solution in post-Daesh Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to hold a National Dialogue Congress in order to safeguard the territorial integrity and political unity of the country, which has been at war for seven years. The agreement, which identifies the three countries as “guarantors,” is concrete proof that the Astana process has been successful.

The congress, which will bring together domestic and external opposition along with all ethnic and religious groups, will discuss a range of issues such as the structuring of public institutions and free and fair elections. However, it remains unclear which groups will participate in the congress – that will be decided by the foreign ministers.

Moreover, the Sochi agreement still needs to be integrated into the Geneva process. Following this important summit, President Erdoğan said he hoped that the agreement would yield positive results and stressed the following, “We cannot be expected to be under the same roof as the terrorist organization, which places our national security at risk.”

Needless to say, he was talking about the Democratic Union Party (PYD)-People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants. It is no secret that the Russians have been eager to work with the PYD, which remains under American control. As a matter of fact, Moscow does not consider the PKK/PYD a terrorist organization and wants to subordinate the group under the Assad regime. As such, the vaguest aspect of the decisions made in Sochi relates to whether or not the PYD will be invited, along with the moderate opposition, to represent the Syrian Kurds.

At the same time, the PYD’s potential role will determine how each of the guarantors interprets the term “political unity.” The Western media identified the Sochi summit as a victory for Russia, which was able to by-pass the United States. The German newspaper Bild said the Sochi summit was a “summit of shame,” recalling the “hundreds of thousands of people” killed in the Syrian civil war.

Earlier this week, The Washington Post claimed that Turkey, Russia and Iran had formed a tripartite alliance on the basis of their opposition to U.S. goals. The fact that Syria’s future could be determined without Washington’s input, U.S. commentators said was a sign that the United States had been severely weakened under President Donald Trump. Obviously, the Trump administration hasn’t been able to develop a coherent Syria policy until now.

Although the anti-Daesh campaign has ended, hardly anyone expects Washington to withdraw from Syria – contrary to the recommendations made by Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Damascus. The fact that Defense Secretary James Mattis recently said that Washington had no intention to leave without “lasting peace” shows that the United States won’t have any difficulty finding an excuse to stick around. Whether it’s protecting the PYD militants or preventing Iranian expansionism, Washington will presumably remain in Syria. America’s continued military support to the PYD-YPG militants attests to that fact. Still, it remains to be seen how the Trump administration, which seeks to contain Iran in the Middle East, will react to the deal struck at the Sochi summit.

The U.S. media’s eagerness to consider the Sochi agreement a failure by the Trump administration means little. The Syrian crisis has come to this point as a result of the Obama administration’s regional policy. As such, it would appear that the United States always wanted to get this result.

Needless to say, Russia and Iran were able to seize control of Syria after 2015 and Bashar Assad was able to attain so much power thanks to President Barack Obama’s decision to minimize the financial costs of the Syrian conflict and reduce it to the fight against Daesh. Let’s be clear, President Trump hasn’t developed this policy but he has merely given the green light for it to remain in place.

Describing the agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran as a sign of their unity in anti-Americanism, likewise, is problematic. It was Washington’s own policies that pushed the Turks towards working with the Russians and the Iranians. Even in the Raqqa operation, Washington opted to cooperate with YPG militants rather than Turkey and refused to take back the weapons delivered to the PKK’s Syrian branch. Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that Washington will be able to take back the initiative in Syria from Russia. It won’t take years to figure out that the Gulf-Israel bloc, which the Americans formed on the basis of anti-Iranian sentiments, won’t deliver results.

[Daily Sabah, 27 November 2017]

In this article