The Idlib Challenge and the Sochi Summit

September 18, 2018

On September 17, 2018, Presidents Putin and Erdoğan met in Sochi. On top of their agenda was Idlib. This is what President Putin said at the joint press conference following the talks:

“We reviewed the situation in detail and decided to establish by October 15 a demilitarized area 15–20 km. deep along the contact line between the armed opposition and government troops, with radical militants to be withdrawn from the area, including al-Nusra. Also, by October 10, based on the Turkish President’s proposal, to secure the withdrawal of heavy military equipment, tanks, multiple rocket launchers, cannon and mortars of all opposition groups. Turkish mobile patrol groups and Russian military police units will conduct the monitoring of the demilitarized zone. Also, to restore transit along the Aleppo-Latakia and Aleppo-Hama routes before the end of 2018, also at the suggestion of the Turkish side…” (*)

President Putin’s using the word “also” three times in his description of the deal gives the impression that what was agreed upon in Sochi essentially reflects Ankara’s approach to the problem. The International Crisis Group said in a statement today that it welcomes the announcement which would appear to prevent a new deadly round of conflict with tremendous human cost. It added that implementing the agreement will be difficult, and its collapse cannot be ruled out. Turkey seems as if it may have to shoulder the heavy burden of partially disarming rebels inside the zone and emptying it of jihadists, a step those militants seem inclined to resist (**).

On the surface, the world seems to be united in preventing a humanitarian disaster with an extremely high civilian death toll, destruction, human suffering and grief. Yet, one only has to look at the past eight years of the Syrian war, what is going on in Yemen and Libya to see that this is far from being the case. Continue reading

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Yemen’s Ordeal Continues

September 16, 2018

The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen is now in its fourth year. On April 24, 2015 Saudi Arabia announced that “Operation Decisive Storm” had achieved its objective and priority would now shift to rebuilding the country and political dialogue. This new phase was to be called “Renewal of Hope”.  More than three years later, the Yemenis find themselves in a state of despair. Continue reading

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The Idlib Challenge and the Tehran Summit

September 9, 2018

The much-awaited Tehran meeting between Iranian, Russian and Turkish Presidents, generally viewed as the “Idlib Summit”, has ended with a Joint Statement on Syria (*).

Paragraph 2 of the Statement emphasizes the three Presidents’ commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. Moreover, it rejects all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism and states their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighboring countries. Continue reading

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The Passing of Senator McCain

September 3, 2018

John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona in 1982 and elected to the Senate in 1986. As President Obama mentioned at his memorial service last Saturday, the Senator was a conservative Republican, but his more than three decades of work in the Senate was underscored by bipartisanship and political courage which often put him in conflict with his own party (*).

In 1955 John F. Kennedy, at the time a junior senator from Massachusetts, published his Pulitzer Prize winning book “Profiles in Courage” on eight of his historical colleagues for their acts of courage and integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition. Looking at the respect shown to Senator McCain across America’s political spectrum, one can assume that he too might have figured among them had the book been written today. Continue reading

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The Idlib Challenge (2)

August 27, 2018

Since the very beginning of the Syrian conflict there have been three stumbling blocks before a political settlement:

  • Breaking the deadlock over President Assad’s future;
  • Persuading the external/regional backers of Damascus and the opposition to give their support not only in words but also in deeds to a Syrian-owned political transition; and,
  • Securing a broad-based agreement on who is a “terrorist” and who is a “moderate”.

Continue reading

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Time to Get a Grip

August 20, 2018

When President Obama’s visited Turkey in April 2009 he underlined Turkey’s “strong, vibrant, secular democracy”. Turkish-American relations appeared to have reached their peak. As Turkey started to move away from the democratic path relations started to sour not only with the US but also the EU. Then came the Syria ordeal. Turkey was at the forefront of those who were after regime change. President Obama’s decision not to enforce his redline in Syria caused resentment in Ankara because it showed that even the Obama administration, unlike Ankara, had not written off President Assad completely. Continue reading

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Iran Sanctions and Turkey’s Brunson Headache

August 10, 2018

The JCPOA was finalized by Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, 2015. Six days later the UN Security Council voted unanimously to endorse the agreement and “terminate” all prior UN sanctions subject to re-imposition through a snapback mechanism. High level visits to Tehran immediately started. The first to arrive was German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. He was followed by EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. These were months before the IAEA certified that Iran had fulfilled her obligations under the JCPOA and the US and the EU lifted their nuclear-related oil and financial sanctions against Iran. President Hassan Rouhani described the achievement as a “golden page” in his country’s history opening new windows for Iran’s engagement with the world. It was hoped that the deal would end decades of hostile relations between Tehran and Washington. Continue reading

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