Tehran summit: Erdogan reaffirms intent to attack Kurds in Syria; Iran draws closer to Russia
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Two major issues emerged from the trilateral summit held among Russia, Iran, and Turkey in Tehran on Tuesday.
Formally, the meeting was part of the “Astana process,” diplomacy among the three parties aimed at securing peace in Syria, but it also proved an occasion for Russia and Iran to affirm their stronger relationship in the wake of Russia’s Feb. 24 attack on Ukraine.
Turkish Threat to Rojava
Iran strongly opposes a Turkish assault into northern Syria, while it does not appear that Russia is prepared to give Ankara the green light for such an attack, although Moscow was not as clear as Tehran in publicly stating its opposition.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, nonetheless, asserted his intent at the Tehran summit to launch such an assault to push the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) back from a 30-kilometer deep zone along Turkey’s border with Syria.
“Erdogan highlighted Turkey’s determination to clear terrorist groups, such as the YPG/PKK from Syria,” Turkey’s Daily Sabah reported.
“Erdogan said Ankara expects its Astana partners to sincerely support its efforts to establish peace and stability in northern Syria,” the Turkish paper continued.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going well for Moscow, and it has been obliged to withdraw troops from Syria. Erdogan may see an opportunity in that, but it is unclear what action he will actually take, particularly as the US and European Union have also expressed their strong opposition to such a move.
Iranian Support for Russia’s War in Ukraine
Before the summit, Putin met with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who strongly backed Russia’s war in Ukraine. Khamenei told Putin that if Russia had not begun that war, NATO, which he called a “dangerous creature,” would have started it at some point.
“War is a violent and difficult issue, and the Islamic Republic is in no way happy that civilians get caught up in it, but concerning Ukraine, had you not taken the initiative the other side would have taken the initiative and caused the war,” Khamenei said.
“NATO would know no bounds, if the way was open to it,” he continued, “and if it was not stopped in Ukraine, it would start the same war using Ukraine as an excuse.”
The New York Times characterized Khamenei’s statement as “a full-throated endorsement for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
“It was a signal,” the Times said, that “the long-fraught relationship between Moscow and Tehran may be becoming a true partnership.”
“The invasion of Ukraine and resulting Western sanctions have drawn Russia and Iran closer together,” The Wall Street Journal similarly reported.
“Putin’s arrival in Iran, ostensibly under the banner of the Astana group to discuss Syria with Iran and Turkey, is yet another sign of the fast-moving Russo-Iranian relationship,” Behnam ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24.
“The West can ill-afford to ignore the linkages between Putin’s Russia and Khamenei’s Iran,” ben Taleblu advised. “Iran has what Putin needs, at least for the short-to-medium term,” including “an expertise in sanctions busting and cheap, asymmetric military capabilities ready to be transferred”—such as large quantities of armed drones, which, as US officials have warned, Iran is preparing to deliver to Russia.
Ben Taleblu suggested that Putin’s visit to Tehran “should be a wake-up call to those who are focused on ‘great power competition.’”
“Countering ‘near-peer competitors’ like Russia and China is not limited to their respective regions, but it is a global affair,” he affirmed.
Indeed, the EU seems to have been particularly slow to recognize and absorb this key point: Iran is aligned with Russia. Consequently, it dragged the US into an embarrassing and counter-productive piece of diplomacy.
Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran, and he and his Iranian counterpart stated that they favored a resumption of the long-stalled talks on renewing the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord.
That was enough to send the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, very quickly to Tehran, where he announced the resumption of the nuclear negotiations in a new venue: Qatar.
But Borrell and his staff failed in the due diligence one would expect of experienced diplomats. They did not check to ensure that the differences between the US and Iran that had stalled the previous round of negotiations had been overcome.
The renewed talks in Qatar, consequently, ended in failure after only two days.
Israel’s Foreign Minister slammed Borrell for his role in arranging that last round of talks, warning, “This is a strategic mistake that sends the wrong message to Iran.”