Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iran held a critical meeting in Moscow on Wednesday as part of a multiyear process intended to bring them together on Syrian issues. Each country was represented by its foreign minister – Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, Syria’s Faisal Mekdad, Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu and Iran’s Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
Syria has been voted back into the Arab League, and other countries are rushing to reconcile with Damascus. These four countries also want to work more closely together. Ankara’s stance is in contrast to the general view of the US and the West, which believe Syria must not receive normalization.
The return of Syrian refugees to their homeland
According to Russian News Agency TASS, Cavusoglu hoped to discuss “the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland as well as the war on terrorism.” Turkey is currently in the midst of an election campaign, and it would be surprising to see Ankara make any radical changes on Syria policy before the election.
“In early April, technical consultations between the deputy foreign ministers of the four countries were held in the Russian capital,” TASS reported. “They were meant to produce the exact date and content of this ministerial meeting, which intends to facilitate the normalization of relations between Syria and Turkey.”
Turkey’s state media, which also covered the meeting, said it was designed to focus on issues of terrorism and the return of Syrian refugees. Turkey has hosted millions of Syrians for many years, but Ankara now wants them returned to Syria.
Turkey also controls parts of northern Syria, and Ankara wants Iran to be part of this whole process. Iran has forces in Syria and backs militias in Syria. In recent months, Iran has shifted its operations to Aleppo, near the Turkish border.
Iran's entrenchment in Syria
Israel opposes Iran’s entrenchment in Syria. The US operates in eastern Syria, where it backs an anti-ISIS campaign, and its presence is opposed by Iran, Turkey and Russia.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday invited the Syrian regime to attend the Arab League meeting in Jeddah in May. The invitation was delivered by the Saudi ambassador to Jordan, The National in the UAE reported.
Riyadh is resuming diplomatic ties with Damascus after many years, and the meetings between Turkey and Syria are being watched closely. If Ankara, a NATO member, gets closer to Damascus, this will further show how distant Ankara is from its NATO partners.
This is a slow move that Ankara has been conducting for a while. The drift is away from NATO’s consensus, specifically in Turkey’s opposition to Sweden, a liberal democracy, joining NATO.