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Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria November 4, 2018.(Photo by: REUTERS/RODI SAID)
American influence over Syrian peace process waning
By VICTOR CABRERA/THE MEDIA LINE
12/11/2018
“However, it’s not a zero-sum game. Turkey will remain aligned to the US in global matters but regionally it will be aligned to Russia on issues related to Syria."
Turkey has requested that the United States withdraw its forces from observation points set up in northern Syria, after President Donald Trump counseled world leaders to abandon the Astana peace process due to its alleged ineffectiveness. 

The Astana negotiations have since 2017 been conducted by Russia, Iran and Turkey with a view to devising a political solution to end the nearly eight-years-long war in Syria. The talks are being undertaken in parallel to the United Nations-sponsored Geneva peace negotiations which have, to date, failed to produce many tangible results.

"The Astana talks are, among much else, part of a general process focusing on the constitutional reform of the Syrian government, a resolution to the civil war, and the elimination of radical [terrorist] structures," Murat Yeşiltaş, Director of Security Studies at the SETA Foundation, explained to The Media Line.

“Turkey, Russia, and Iran are closely operating on the ground in Syria and in the diplomatic arena and it is this concerted step-by-step process that has been important. The countries started by declaring a cease-fire and then announced the demilitarized zone in Idlib Province. This also shows a strengthening rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow" which Washington views as a threat to its regional influence.

Yeşiltaş contends that the Geneva initiative has, by contrast, largely failed because "it has too many players that are disconnected from the conflict and that don’t agree on the best strategy to pursue. For example, France and the US wanted to invite groups to the negotiating table that Turkey sees as terrorist organizations.”

Given the circumstances, the US appears to be pushing back, with Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey recently having called on the international community to "pull the plug" on the Astana talks if they fail to deliver political reforms in Damascus by December 14.

“The US has little role in the Astana process—it is only an 'observer'—so it’s difficult to see this being much more than a symbolic effort to put pressure on Russia," Dr. Christopher Phillips, Associate Fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Program at the London-based Chatham House think-tank, conveyed to The Media Line. "Even if the US pulled out of Astana it would not be an issue."

Meanwhile, many analysts agree that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan construes the US' current posturing as threat to his objective of carving out security zones along Turkey's border with Syria.

“At some point we will see a concerted effort from Turkey to get a hold of other areas near the Euphrates [river] in order to establish a proper buffer zone," Dr. Phillips predicted. "Pressing the Americans to allow that to happen is part of the Turkish strategy. There is a cost to what the US is doing [in intervening with Astana] and Ankara wants to show this.”

Other observers note that developments in the Syrian peace process have exposed a broader trend in the Middle East: namely, that various traditional US allies are opting to secure their regional interests through non-traditional means independent of the world's lone superpower.

“You have this sort of interesting situation where Ankara’s closeness to Moscow is not a short-term tactical approach in order to attract more attention from America; rather, it’s a permanent feature of its foreign policy," Dr. Phillips concluded.

“However, it’s not a zero-sum game. Turkey will remain aligned to the US in global matters but regionally it will be aligned to Russia on issues related to Syria."

For more stories go to themedialine.org.
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