Turkish-American Meeting in Idlib Calls for Concern

Dark clouds are forming in the skies of northwestern Syria, and all of them are artificial. Forces are working to generate clouds to make rain over a region that is teetering on the brink. Just as the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing was a gateway to internationalization in Syria after factions loyal to Ankara seized it in 2012, perhaps this feverish pace indicates regional intentions to develop a roadmap that leads, in the long term, to the first draft of a political settlement which seems extremely complicated.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has been at our border for about a week. That’s a long time! Enough time to raise concern. Despite what the media reported, the intention of her visit was far different. Most likely, her visit was simply to hold talks signaling America’s intention to strengthen the profile of northwestern Syria as it did east of the Euphrates. Yet we will probably see positive developments that will displace the Americans in some form, leading to a return of Syrian sovereignty. This would especially be the case if the issue of oil follows the strategy recently addressed by the Biden administration. This course would lead to freezing exemptions from sanctions imposed on Delta Crescent Energy. The public has lost its appetite for sanctions like those imposed against Syria under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, perhaps signaling a sort of shift in plans which is moving Joe Biden with it. More precisely, the envisioned goals and how they’re achieved differ from what the current state of affairs in Syria called for on May 26 and what will follow in the coming days and weeks.

In the climate of the latest American mobilization, you might say this was a race to confront the expected Chinese-Russian veto against the extension of U.S. Security Council Resolution 2533, which extends international aid across the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing. The Security Council will vote on July 10, a day before the resolution expires. Among the signals coming from these mobilizations, one might say that the two sides will impose the necessary mechanism to confront Moscow, which aims to use the veto to block the entry of international aid across the Syrian controlled-areas, thus further centralizing its power and establishing rule-of-law practice in its territory. In this context, Bloomberg News reported the details of Thomas-Greenfield’s visit to Turkey, noting that “Ankara and Washington united to thwart the Russian attempts aimed at blocking and undermining the U.N. resolution to send international aid to Syria.”* Yet the statement issued by the Turkish presidential office said, “The two parties have confirmed it is imperative to stop any new immigration to Turkey, especially from Idlib.” Furthermore, the office stressed “the importance of continued access to international aid for Syria from Turkey.” It’s clear that the first statement aimed to suggest an American “veto” against any military missions that the Syrian Army might undertake to aid its Russian ally in retaking Idlib. Some sources have suggested, based on recent military activity around Idlib, that these were synchronized with training conducted by some of the Syrian divisions under Russian supervision. It’s also clear, from the second statement, that Ankara and Washington have decided to dig in together in facing Moscow and Damascus.

Among the issues buried within the American-Turkish agreement, one might say that Ankara has guaranteed, at least, that the Americans will turn a blind eye to Turkish activity that began three weeks after the Russo-Turkish agreement was signed in March 2020, leading to a cease-fire in Idlib. This cease-fire is still holding despite a number of infractions that do not appear to threaten its hold on the situation. The agreement was reached when a power station was established on the Turkish-Syrian border, resulting in Turkish electricity being supplied to some neighborhoods in Idlib. However, the most dangerous development occurred in the past few days, when Turkey secured the civilian archives in areas controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham after replacing personal IDs with Turkish IDs. The danger of this situation increases with the American tendency to polish the image of Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, leader of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

We should not forget previous acts committed by Turkey in Cyprus in 1974. Operation Attila in northern Cypress led to the appearance of a Turkish cancer in the Cyprian identity which persists today despite the passage of nearly half a century since these events occurred, and despite the fact that it hasn’t been recognized by any nation in the world except Turkey. Whether or not Turkey is betting on a repeat of Attila in northwestern Syria remains to be seen. Perhaps what they’ve already done has been enough.

On the other hand, on June 8, 2021, expert talks were held between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Turks. A press release contained no important details, but it’s likely that the Turks asked the Russians not to veto the delivery of international aid to Syria from Turkey. Perhaps the Turkish delegation wanted to observe Russia’s position and intentions after the Turkish-American agreement mentioned above, or perhaps, what position Moscow might take among the practical options in light of the dangerous existential developments facing Syria.

Notably, Russians are still taking the path of the Kazakh capital Nur Sultan to reach an agreement with Ankara on the matter of Syria. This is something that the media may see during the June 16 trip to Nur Sultan. The announcement of the visit is a public reminder that this path still exists, but in reality, it’s been dead since former President Donald Trump lost the election and left the White House in January. It’s a failure which the Biden administration wants to bury since it doesn’t want to talk to Moscow about Syria now and because it doesn’t want to give

Russia the benefit of the doubt in regional matters, most prominent among them, Syria. Moreover, Moscow has not bent to America’s special requests regarding China, so perhaps Washington now wants to indicate that it is ready to talk with Ankara further about this matter. However, perhaps the United States is also ready to speak with Syria itself regarding the affairs which concern them more than the rest of the world.

An option like this must be among the proposed options, and it’s a real option, one which the Russians would certainly not object to since Moscow realizes there’s no substitute for direct talks. Moreover, it certainly wouldn’t be considered an infringement on Russian interests in the region generally, or in Syria especially.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quote could not be verified.

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