Iran playing vital role in Syria peace process: US analyst

Tasnim – A California-based political analyst praised the Astana peace process initiated by Iran, Russia, and Turkey with the aim of ending the Syrian conflict, as “a good example of effective diplomacy” and said the Islamic Republic has “played a vital role” in the process.

“These talks and agreements helped reduce the bloodshed and increase reconciliation agreements,” Rick Sterling from San Francisco Bay said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.

“The talks helped restore calm to eastern Ghouta / outer Damascus, Daraa province in the south and beyond,” he said, adding, “The talks were a good example of effective diplomacy.”

Sterling is a retired aerospace engineer who now writes about international issues. As a member of the Syria Solidarity Movement and a prominent analyst, his works and interviews have appeared in media outlets around the world.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Tasnim: Turkey rejected on Tuesday Syrian government accusations that it is not meeting its obligations under an agreement to create a demilitarized zone around the insurgent-held Idlib region, saying the deal was being implemented as planned. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem had said that Turkey appeared unwilling to implement the deal. What is your opinion about the comments and the future of the Idlib province, which with adjacent areas is the last stronghold of insurgents?

Sterling: These conflicting comments from the foreign ministers of Syria and Turkey reflect how tenuous the situation is. Turkey has a proxy military force now called the National Liberation Front in Idlib. Meanwhile, the former al-Nusra terrorists now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have NOT agreed to the de-militarization buffer zone. There are recent reports they have attacked Syrian army positions and retain heavy weaponry in the buffer zone. There are other reports that the Syrian army has recently counter-attacked some HTS militants. There are also reports that HTS and their “White Helmet” allies are planning to stage a chemical weapons incident to undermine the agreement. In addition to the HTS terrorists, thousands of Uyghur militants from western China make up the Turkestan Islamic Party and are based in Idlib. These battle-hardened militants are not part of the agreement and need to be disarmed one way or another. Turkey does not want them. Neither does Syria obviously. The current situation is not a long-term solution. Hopefully, the Syrian militants will reconcile and foreign terrorists can be arrested and sent to their homelands. The current situation could continue for some time, or the situation could explode.

Tasnim: A four-way summit on Syria recently ended in Turkey’s Istanbul without any major breakthrough. In a joint communique following their meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin called for “an inclusive, Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process” and said conditions needed to be created for the safe and voluntary return of refugees. The comments came as the summit was not attended by any Syrian groups. What do you think about the summit?

Sterling: This meeting is a new advance by including European powers France and Germany. France has been especially aggressive in the western ‘regime change’ efforts against Libya and then Syria. So it’s a positive step for France and Germany to be meeting with Russia and Turkey talking about the end of the conflict in Syria. From 2011 through early 2015 the intelligence agencies in many western countries seemed to look the other way as their citizens were brain-washed then recruited to go and fight in Syria. This has changed as the fanatic ideology and some former fighters exploded in terrorist actions in Europe. It’s good if France and Germany are sincerely pledging support for the Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity along with participation in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Syria. The countries which financed the war on Syria have a huge debt they need to pay back. They owe massive war reparations.

Tasnim: Iran, Russia, and Turkey – the three guarantor states of de-escalation zones in Syria – have held several rounds of peace talks in Kazakhstan’s Astana and elsewhere to help end the conflict in the Arab country. The fourth round of those talks in May 2017 produced a memorandum of understanding on de-escalation zones in Syria, sharply reducing fighting in the country. What is your assessment of the parallel talks between the three countries on the Syrian crisis and Tehran’s role in the peace process?

Sterling: The Astana process meetings were a breakthrough by bringing two major and opposing players in the conflict (Turkey and Iran) to help forge an understanding and path forward which minimized civilian deaths and reduced the fighting overall. These talks and agreements helped reduce the bloodshed and increase reconciliation agreements. The talks helped restore calm to eastern Ghouta / outer Damascus, Daraa province in the south and beyond. The talks were a good example of effective diplomacy. Tehran has played a vital role in the process. As Syria has been under attack by some of the richest and most powerful countries on earth, Iran has provided critical economic and military support to the people of Syria. Tehran provided important diplomatic support through the Astana process.