Valdai Discussion Club | Kayhan Barzegar: On April 4, 2018, the second round of talks will be held between heads of states of Russia, Iran and Turkey on the Syrian peace in Ankara, Turkey. In the first round held in Sochi in November 2017, the three states stressed on the creation of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. Subsequently the representatives of Syrian various social strata gathered in Sochi again in January 2018 to explore the ways for Syrian peace. In this line, the three states emphasized that their efforts will be an introduction for the Geneva peace talks, led by the United Nations.
Irrespective of the significance of the ongoing conference in Ankara in ending the 7-year war in Syria, holding such a conference by these three powerful states, with different understanding of regional dynamics and acquiring sustainable solutions for the regional crises beyond the interests of Western-oriented coalition, is a turning point in the emergence of a new multilateral regional order. At present, the main common interest between these three states is to enhance the state system in Syria, especially to keep the its territorial integrity intact, paving the way for accelerating political solution and consequently processing the country’s political transition and reconstruction.
The logic of such multilateral regional order is based on three angles: First, the strategic constraint of individual state to play its own and specific role in winning this geopolitical game. The Syrian crisis showed that no country alone and based on its national potentials will be able to shape the Syrian scene in its maximized interests. At present, Russia, Iran and Turkey know well that finding a sustainable solution requires their close security cooperation on the one hand and the inclusion of the opposition Western side and its allies on the other. For this reason, the three states acknowledge that the last phase of political solution should be led by the United Nations and in the context of the Geneva talks. This is due to fact that the multi-layered nature of the Syrian crisis (intra-state, inter-states and regional/trans-regional geopolitical rivalry), as well as the necessity of collective efforts to deal with the terrorism and sectarian conflicts, will fragile the regional peace and security in any circumstances.
Second, the process-oriented characteristic of the Syrian crisis. Throughout the crisis, it has appeared that reaching to a sustainable peace can only be achieved in the line with negotiations between main players and through reducing tensions gradually and not by setting any preconditions. In last seven years, there were several unsuccessful initiatives to end the crisis by the United Nations.
The most famous one was “the freeze plan” in one region (Aleppo) and its gradual extension to other regions of the crisis, initiated by Steffan de Mistura, the UN Syria envoy in 2014, which can somehow be considered as the primary idea for shaping “the Astana process” for creating four de-escalation zones in Syria, quarantined by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
This demonstrates that all involved states realized gradually that setting preconditions for solving the crisis is unrealistic and against the political-security realities on the ground, that is “Asad must go first and then the negotiations start,” favored and followed by the opposite side for several years, as it would kill the process of negotiations at its start. This is more due to technical-related, time consuming and step-oriented characteristic of the issues of the conflict, such as keeping ceases-fire, cooperating in the de-escalation zones, processing comprehensive political talks, and electing the transitional government, etc.
And third, the necessity of expanding diplomacy. This becomes more significant in the post-war situation in Syria and when the county enters in the political phase and reconstruction process. The experiences and Afghanistan and Iraq wars show that comprehensive cooperation between all involved actors is vital to guarantee the different levels of peace-building in any post-conflict situation. In this respect, creation and continuation of a coalitional government requires the active role of all players, small or big, in the political phase. In this regard, one should note that while more powerful political forces in the field (here Russia, Iran and Turkey) have not tried to exclude other states from the negotiations process, it is natural that they would want to initiate and balance the process of talks and prospective results in the context of their own security and national interests.